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Ghostchasers: Part Four

by tamia_silverwing


A light flickered against the darkness, then went out. It went on again, for a little longer this time, before vanishing once more.

      "You can't even make fire, can you?" Jeri asked.

      Trick glared. "I'm working on it!" He snapped his fingers irritably, and this time all that appeared was a tiny hint of grey smoke. He slumped back against the fallen log behind him. "Great, now look what you've done. You've ruined my concentration."

      "Terribly sorry." The Bori reached deep into his pack, and used the sizes and shapes of its contents to guess what they were. The light was almost entirely gone in the Woods. "Ah well, I suppose now would be a good time to just light a match." He held one up triumphantly, but of course neither of the two younger neopets could see anything, so he just struck it against some bark and placed it at the heart of the wood they'd arranged.

      "You know," Aley said, "we may just have to start thinking about sleep."

      "You're crazy; Kiyoshi's still out there!" said Trick in disbelief.

      "Actually," Jeri intervened, prodding the fire with a stick, "I reckon it's only about mid-afternoon. There, that's better," he said as the small clearing lit up a bit.

      "Really?" the Lupe yawned. "It's not only blacker than a Nanka Bottle out here, but it even feels later."

      "Just a bit of Woods-disorientation. All outsider pets feel it the first time they come here." Suddenly Jeri's supersensitive Bori ears shot up.

      "What is it?" asked Trick eagerly.

      "I dunno, it's --"

      "Beep beep-beep."

      For a moment, the three just sat in anxious silence. Then it sounded again, and they realized what it was.

      "I'll get it!" shouted a very restless Trick as he clambered over the makeshift camp in the direction of the computer transmitter.

      "I should think not, mate," said Jeri, restraining Trick, loudly protesting, from the communications array.

      The Bori punched a key on its surface for audio-only transmission.

      "This is Jeri -- got the word?"

      "Spooks behind you," came the reply in the welcome form of Tyra Magena's voice.

      Jeri flipped the switch on the back of the box-like display, and once again looked into the attractive face of the Aisha. She positively grinned. "Hey there, Jerafiyell!"

      "Tyra, am I glad to see you." Trick had started Aley giggling by whispering something about "Mr. Paco's friend," but Jeri ignored this.

      "Is Kiyoshi there?"

      "Umm, no...."

      "Well, in any case, I've managed to find a little job for you. Some farmer out in Meridell wants --"

      "That's just it. I don't think now would be the best time to accept another mission."

      "Why not?" Tyra asked. "Did you get whatever the problem was at Crystal Valley solved?"

      "Well, sort of --" Jeri hesitated, remembering they were still traveling with a couple of junior high students. "You know they even put up that snowbeast fence, on the request of a certain Mrs. Park?"

      "I thought that was Kiyoshi's --"

      "I know, I know. Explain later. You think you can give me any advice on how to lure an easily distracted young Shoyru back to camp?"

      "I don't suppose you have a piece or two of the lab map on you."


      "Didn't think so."

      Jeri glanced around and bit his lip. "Tyra, I'm actually getting worried," he said in a low voice. "It's not unusual for Shoyrus, and especially not unusual for Kiyoshi to wander off, but he's been gone for over an hour now."

      "That long?"

      Jeri nodded.

      "That is odd. No, it's more than odd. I can't imagine him splitting up the team for more than a couple of minutes. Something's wrong."

      Tyra seemed to sense the Bori's concern, and, hoping to ease his mind, told him, "It'll be okay, Jeri. But maybe you should go after him. By the way, who did you pick up? Is that Trick from Crystal Valley?"

      "Yeah, that's Trick alright, and that's--" He had been turning around to point out the two Neopets behind him, but he spun back to stare at Tyra. "They're gone!"


      The next thing Kiyoshi was aware of was a foggy scene of murky colour, slowly swirling about him. If he could feel anything, it might have been sickening. Admittedly, Kiyoshi immediately started wondering if Lander Cosmo had been right. Was this nothingness? It sure didn't look like much of anything.

      A curious noise filled the space, like a dozen voices murmuring among themselves. It was puzzling -- if this was a void, the absence of anything, then why did there seem to be so much going on?

      One noise seemed to rise above the others. It said, "I thought you said the highest setting would take him out for hours!" It struck Kiyoshi as an odd thing for the voice of the void to say --

      And then with a pang, he realized what had really happened.

      He tried to sit up, and the blurry landscape began to solidify into the familiar images of the Haunted Woods. As well, a Virtublaster 1000 seemed to be pointing at him, about an inch from his face. Grudgingly, he lay his head back on the ground again.

      The green Grarrl holding the weapon turned to an approaching figure. It was Cosmo. "Sorry, Cosmo," the Grarrl said in a fairly high-pitched voice, "But that's what it said on the package."

      "Piece-of-junk space weaponry," muttered the Eyrie. "Oh well, you get what you pay for, right Mank?"

      "I guess so," said Mank uncertainly.

      Kiyoshi raised an eyebrow. He glanced cautiously around. The surroundings had changed, and the trees were, if anything, thicker here. It surprised him to see a rough wall of tree trunks, bound together, about fifteen feet off his right.

      "Like my little hideout, Mr. Ghostchaser? I created it so that it is cunningly invisible from most angles." The Eyrie's eyes gleamed.

      "I thought that old Wocky Shrak built it," piped up Mank. "We sure paid him enough."

      Cosmo held his paw to his forehead and raised his eyes forward, as if embarrassed by Mank's antics. He took the blaster from Mank. Suddenly looking significantly more intimidating, he held it up to Kiyoshi himself. He gestured with it for the Shoyru to get up.

      Kiyoshi obeyed carefully, not wanting to get zapped with that Virtublaster again, however 'ineffective' it was.

      "Now, Ghostchaser, we only found a stone shard in your belt pack there," Cosmo started. "And of course you understand how I can't have you walking into my home with some hidden armoury. So if you'd kindly tell me where all your belongings are..."

      Kiyoshi shrugged. "That's it," he lied, trying not to think of the pack he'd left with Jeri, Trick and Aley.

      If you'd ever seen an Eyrie's wing, you'd think it were more of a decoration than a weapon, but its full strength is nothing to laugh at. The blow hit him in the stomach and he dropped to the ground, doubled over. He wasn't having a very good week.

      "Come on, Paco," Cosmo said impatiently. "I've heard you tend to be fairly nonviolent, but you can't walk so far into the Haunted Woods with nothing. Last time I heard, you carried a little system worth at least 50 000 NP."

      "Nonviolent?" gasped Kiyoshi, pushing himself up a little. "Yeah. I left my weapons at home." He rolled to the side to avoid a downward smack from those wings.

      "Food? Communications?" the Eyrie demanded. "Surely the famous Haunted Woods Ghostchaser came better prepared than that. Maybe you left your things with your friends."

      Kiyoshi automatically opened his mouth to desperately invent a story, but Cosmo himself beat him to it. "No," he murmured. "No, too independent -- they say you're always wandering off by yourself. So, where is your camp set up?"

      There was something strange about this conversation, and Kiyoshi realized what it was. Cosmo seemed to be lost in his own power, not sure of his own assumptions even as he rushed to them. But his unpredictability was making up for this lack of intuition. An idea suddenly hit him, and he followed his hunch.

      "If you'd heard so much about me, you'd know I don't travel with that many supplies. What I did bring," he added before Cosmo could argue, "I don't have anymore. I dropped my bag near your trap." It had a thread of truth to it -- what he had dropped was one weapon out of his belt: a Scarab Stone Slingshot.

      "I see." Cosmo studied him, but he seemed to buy it without much suspicion. Kiyoshi had been right. "Carmy. You'll come with me to collect Ghostchaser's belongings." A sinister-looking Acara, her smooth, dark hair pulled back, nodded and walked over. "Mank." Cosmo tossed the Virtublaster back to the Grarrl, who eagerly trained it on Kiyoshi, as if it was his life's ambition to blast things with it. "You'll be in charge of watching over this place. I want Mr. Ghostchaser guarded at all times. We'll be about forty-five minutes -- I hope you can stay on top of things for that long."

      Mank saluted smartly. Kiyoshi tried to keep his mounting feeling of triumph from showing as Cosmo and Carmy vanished into the darkness. If Cosmo had been a little more experienced in his chosen field of underground operations, he might have known never to leave the base in the hands of a second-in-command.

      Kiyoshi moved surreptitiously to his feet. He sighed. "Just me and you now, Mank."

      The Grarrl fingered the blaster longingly.


      "I'm not so sure it was a good idea to abandon Jeri," Aley whispered. She peered around the tree for a few moments, then resumed her cover behind the thick bramble. "I mean, what if something happens to him?"

      Trick laughed softly, also taking a peek from behind the bushes. "That's funny. You think Jeri can't take care of himself?"

      "Fair enough." She sat on the leaf-strewn ground. "So what if something happens to us?"

      "You're saying we can't take care of ourselves, then."

      Aley frowned. "That's about right, yeah."

      She could hear his annoyed little groan before he complained, "I can't even see anything. I miss the snow."

      "Well, it was definitely --" She stopped mid-sentence and pulled Trick down beneath the leafy cover. "Be quiet, I think they're back."

      "Great, now we have a reason to hide," Trick hissed.

      "...own business?" a voice was saying as it became audible. "You know him as well as I; he always thinks he's doing it for the greater good, but someone always ends up worse off than anyone was to start."

      "I see now why they call him 'Ghostchaser'," a second voice said, cool and feminine. Aley tensed at the uttering of the word. Beside her, Trick's mouth formed the word, 'Ghostchaser'. "He is chasing something that is impossible to catch," the female voice continued. "Peace."

      Through the gaps in the foliage, Trick and Aley watched as two pets entered their sight. One was a large red Eyrie, smartly dressed, the other a very pretty red Acara who looked like the last time she had smiled had been at someone's funeral.

      The Eyrie snorted. "Peace," he mused, glancing around. The hidden pets hardly dared to breathe. "Peace is something that will never be present on this planet. There will always be another war."

      "Speaking of war --" the Acara started, but she was cut off by her companion.

      "Don't think of it as war," he snapped, and the Acara's eyes narrowed bad-temperedly. "It will merely be a few attacks. Trust me, there will be no counterattack. Even if there were Neopians with enough courage to do so, it would be -- well, like chasing a ghost."

      Aley stared at Trick, not believing her ears. A series of attacks? What had Kiyoshi stumbled into? What had they stumbled into?

      The Eyrie and Acara were wandering around, as if combing the area for something. Aley started to shift her position so that they wouldn't move out of sight altogether, but Trick grabbed her arm to stop her.

      "Perhaps he was lying," the Acara's voice said.

      "I wouldn't put it past hi -- wait." The sounds of the Eyrie's movements came closer again. Aley felt as if her heart were going to burst out through her mouth -- but luckily, the Eyrie stopped short of their cover. She chanced a glimpse and saw that he was holding some type of slingshot in front of him. "That's Kiyoshi's," Trick silently mouthed.

      "Scarab Stone," the Eyrie chuckled mirthlessly. "I should have known our Ghostchaser would never carry a sword." His eyes snapped back to the Acara. "But where's the rest of it?"

      "I couldn't tell you," the Acara replied smoothly. She touched the handle of a weapon she had in her belt. "He was lying."

      "Had me going too," he said dangerously. "Odd how he could so easily convince me, and yet he himself has no trouble refusing the given facts that declare the master forces." He turned to the Acara. "We must get back to the base. Now."

      Something in what the Eyrie had just said was stirring in Aley's memory, struggling to reach the surface. And as they were moving off, it clicked. "Cosmo," she breathed.

      But then Cosmo paused. Ever so slowly, ever so threateningly, he turned. "If there's one thing I can pick out of a conversation, it's my own name," he hissed. He strode over menacingly, too close to the two friends now for comfort. "Show yourselves!" he snarled.

      Before Aley could stop him or comprehend what he was doing, Trick shot up. "Behold!" he yelled, producing an all-too-familiar glass sphere. "The Orb of the Fire Faerie!"

      Somewhere in the back of her mind it occurred to the Lupe that the relative brightness of the Orb would blot out the features of the Shoyru and create an impressive display of fire and shadow on his face. Was it possible that he knew what he was doing...? She decided to stay where she was until Trick unveiled his master plan, but shoved a few branches out of the way so she would have a clear view.

      The Acara, who had immediately drawn her blade, was recovering from the initial shock. "It's hardly even glowing," she pointed out.

      Trick raised an eyebrow and smiled enigmatically. Then, in one quick movement, he heaved it up, straight into the treetops high above.

      Cosmo had stiffened, but now he looked at Trick and laughed. "That's a pretty bad battle maneuver, kid."

      The Orb landed in the grass at Cosmo's feet. For a moment, nothing happened.

      But then...

      Noises started -- from above. Noises like squeaks and chatters and tiny growls... and then the dreaded shriek of -- "Meep!"

      And they were upon Cosmo. They dropped from the treetops, dozens of them, like tiny, pink, parachuting bundles of teeth and claws.

      They were enraged. Anything within three feet of the fallen Orb was fair game. In just moments they had swarmed over both the Eyrie and the Acara, engulfing them... they both fell under the weight of the hordes of Meepits.

      Quickly but cautiously, Trick retrieved his weapon, plucking off a couple of the creatures and tossing them into the mass of Meepits.

      He placed the Orb in his bag, hiding it from view. The two friends backed up to a safe distance as even more Meepits poured into the scene. "Northern Woods 101 if you live up here!" Trick called. "Meepits, " he said perceptively, "do not like fire."

      Then they ran. And just when they thought they'd made it, two strange-sounding zaps from behind them were followed by complete blackness.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Ghostchasers: Part One
» Ghostchasers: Part Two
» Ghostchasers: Part Three
» Ghostchasers: Part Five
» Ghostchasers: Part Six

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