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Halloween Marathon


by schefflera

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Also by dreagoddess

Collecting 1, Year Eight

A blue Korbat circled the sky over Neopia Central, then plunged down and fluttered to a landing next to his best friend, who was sunning on her roof. "Hey, Cass! What are you going to be for Halloween this year? General-- blblb?"

     Cassandra, a Darigan-painted Eyrie who deeply resented her name, had just rolled over and placed a paw on his face. "It's Sandra," she said, "and if you finish that sentence I will injure you."

     The Korbat, Daniel, put both hands around her wrist and pulled it away to finish innocently, "Crustygums?"

     Sandra laughed in spite of herself. "I'm not sure how I'd dress up as a Tyrannian Grarrl."

     "The other one would be easy for you --hey!" He yelped and jumped backward off the roof as she swiped at him, then came back and batted her with a wing. "Would be easy for you, but I don't think I'd make a very convincing Lord Darigan. Not tall enough."

     "And I don't look enough like a Pile of Sludge to be what's left of General Kass," Sandra said drily. She huffed and looked at him sheepishly from one eye. "I hate to say it, but I'm getting tired of trick-or treating, anyway."

     Daniel's eyes widened. "Tired of trick-or-treating? How can you get tired of trick-or-treating? It's -- it's -- trick-or-treating! C'mon, Sandra, it's our day." He looped up in the air and did a backflip, coming back around to grin at her. "I know what this is really about. You just know I'm going to get more houses than you, General Slowpoke. Again."

     "Oh no, you're not, and you do not get to count every hole in an extended family's hollow tree--!" Cassandra controlled herself and settled back on her haunches, unruffling her feathers. "I've run out of costume ideas that I'm willing to do and don't foul my wings, and I think I'm losing my taste for sugar." She eyed him. "Which obviously isn't a problem you have! Flibbertigibbet."

     "It's not the sugar; it's the thrill of the hunt!" Daniel struck a grand pose for a moment, then drooped down to pleading. "C'mon, Sandra, how can we know who wins if you're not even going? You don't have to take the candy!"

     "If I let you have my candy, you'll be vibrating until Borovan Day," Sandra said. "I don't know. I've been wanting to really stretch my wings lately--" She stopped, and her red eyes lit up. "Stretch our wings...."

     Daniel eyed her. "Are you coming up with some weird costume idea?"

     "No! A race. You always care more about who goes the farthest than the candy anyway. Let's put it to the test!"

     The Korbat stretched out on his stomach on the roof, kicking his legs and fluttering his wings idly in the air. "I'm listening...."

     Sandra grinned. "We're old enough to stay out the whole night now, right?"

     Daniel's wings lifted and flared. "Yes...."

     "How about we visit all the lands of Neopia?"

     He sat right up at that. "Are you serious? I've never even been to half of them--!" His eyes were alight now too.

     "It's not like you'll have any trouble finding your way in the dark."

     "What dark? Kreludor will be full."

     "Right! Then no problem." Sandra's wings rustled eagerly. "We leave from here Halloween night, right when trick-or-treating starts. Then we choose our own paths and visit each land, or as many as we can get to, and meet back here at the end and see who wins!"

     "But if we're not getting candy, how do we make sure we really visited each place?"

     Sandra shrugged. "So we stop at one place in each land and get something. Like a scavenger hunt!"

     Daniel's eyes glittered. "Perfect. If we get to the same number of worlds by dawn, we compare who has the better tokens."

     *****

Collecting 31, Year 8

     The two had pored over maps of Neopia throughout the Month of Collecting, setting out what lands should be included in the count, plotting their respective flight paths and goals based on proximity, air currents, and endurance. Daniel intended to head north immediately after sunset, while the air was still as warm as it would ever be that night; even with his blood pumping from flight, he didn't care to freeze his wingtips off in the freezing air of Terror Mountain just before dawn. Sandra's thick, insulating fur and feathers made this less of a concern for her, but she'd argued strenuously (and lost) against counting Meridell, Brightvale, and the Darigan Citadel separately and intended to get them over with first.

     They had each taken advantage of the free training on Krawk Island on Eyrie Day and Korbat Day earlier in the month, and each wore a lightweight flier's rucksack, designed to sit comfortably and release easily without fouling their wings. As a nod to the idea of costumes, not to mention visibility, each wore a fluorescent Halloween-orange fabric mask tied across their eyes. They stood together next to the Rainbow Pool, the spray causing brief flickers of strange colors and trinkets across them, and then slowly fading, and watched for the sun to set.

     The sun set; the shadows melted together; Kreludor rose round and silver; Neopets all across Neopia Central scattered out of their houses or lit lanterns at the door to invite (friendly!) guests; and Sandra and Daniel bounded into the air.

     They flew together at first, as they had many times, Daniel's rapid wingbeats keeping pace with Sandra's longer stride. But just outside of Neopia Central, they separated; Daniel veering north for the ice and snow of Terror Mountain. Sandra watched him fly out of sight as her steady, strong wingbeats took her east towards Meridell. Well, Darigan, to be more exact. She thought her coloring might make it easier to gain a good token there so early in the evening... and even though the curse was lifted, she was still a little uncomfortable about being there too late at night!

     The Citadel loomed dark and foreboding, the silver light from Kreludor seeming to shy away from touching its surface. There wasn't nearly the activity on the surface as she'd left behind on Neopia Central, but a few children were running around merrily.

     There were some gasps and wide eyes as she landed, and Sandra winced. She should've thought of that before visiting, but at least she hadn't worn a military costume! Instead she just smiled as brightly as she could and said, "Trick or treat?"

     "Oh, you're one of the crazy folk who got painted this way on purpose," said a Darigan Techo after a moment, laughing. "You know, lass, we're not that much for candy here."

     She smiled back a little uncertainly, trying not to blush under her feathers. "Well, I don't really need candy. Just something to prove to my friend that I've been here."

     "Oh, a dare, is it?" That didn't sound quite as friendly.

     "It's a race," she explained. "We're trying to visit all the lands in Neopia before the night's out. Daniel went north first; should be along sometime later tonight. He's a blue Korbat--" She stopped as a long shadow fell over her.

     "A blue Korbat, hm?"

     She turned slowly and looked up. Way up. "L-Lord Darigan?"

     "I'm pleased to see we're getting a few visitors who don't want to traipse through my study." He tossed a Drackonack Yoyo at her and smiled. "I'll keep an eye out for your friend. A couple of mine have suggested I bring a group down to Meridell; would you care to fly with us?"

     She gulped and tucked the yoyo carefully in her sack. "Yes, um, my lord, that would be, erm, nice. That was my next stop, actually."

     She ended up carrying three small Darigani children, in her arms and clinging to her back, who weren't able to fly alone, and they poured like a dark river over the edge of the Citadel. Sandra was startled by how nervous she felt in Meridell, with her dark fur and claws, and how much more comfortable she felt under the protection of Lord Darigan's group. She ended up with a Meridellian Potato and a Parchment Fruit from Meridell and Brightvale, respectively, and left for Kiko Lake feeling very thoughtful indeed.

     *****

     Daniel had been saving a Blue Ice Cream Machine Coupon for months, and thought that this would be the ideal time to use it. He stowed his souvenir from Happy Valley in an insulated box and jumped nearly out of his skin when the Snowager burst roaring out of the mouth of the Ice Caves... and then withdrew, snickering quietly to itself. He would go to Tyrannia next, then down around to Shenkuu, Altador, and the Lost Desert....

     *****

     Sandra chose to head out across the sea while her wings were still fresh.

     They'd discussed things and decided they needed to leave out Maraqua, Kreludor, and the space station for purely practical reasons, so her strong wingbeats carried her across the sea to Mystery Island. She chatted for a few moments with the Tiki Tourguide and got an Official Coconut Mask for her efforts. Krawk Island (and a die from Bilge Dice) was next, and then she was making the higher flight up to Faerieland.

     *****

     It was midnight when Daniel made his way to Roo Island, having flown over it on his way to Terror Mountain. It was a place of wild revelry; evidently King Roo was very generous. Still, Daniel hesitated. He perched atop the merry-go-round and thought very hard before making a dive for the dark building toward the south of the island.

     He would visit Count Von Roo.

     It was dark. Well, it was late. But it was Halloween, the night most Neopians stayed up as late as they could manage. He landed at the base of the enormous, oddly shaped castle and looked around. Should he knock..?

     Before he had made up his mind, the doors burst inward, and the enormous silhouette of a Blumaroo loomed up between them. "Welcome." The voice was sepulchrally deep, the word long and drawn out. "Would you care to have a wager with me?"

     "...Well, I don't really have a lot of time. But maybe something quick? I'm actually on a kind of... um, a race, or a scavenger hunt. I'm trying to visit the all the lands tonight."

     Von Roo frowned fearsomely around his nose. "You will remain," he intoned, "and play the game of Deadly Dice!"

     There was a boom from behind Daniel, who hadn't realized he had been drawn inside the doors. He flinched and looked over his shoulder.

     The doors were still open.

     He gave the Blumaroo vampire a puzzled look.

     Count Von Roo loomed. "Well?"

     "...Er," Daniel said intelligently. Then he swallowed, shrugged his wings, and said, "Sure, why not? Who goes first?"

     "We shall cast the dice together. If yours is higher, you gain a level. If mine is higher -- which it will be -- you lose a level."

     He'd never had much luck with dice, Daniel thought with a sigh. Maybe he should just leave and see if someone else was around to claim a token from. This was taking too long! But he shrugged again and cast the dice.

     "A tie!" cried Count Von Roo. He bared his fangs. "Shall we go double or nothing?"

     Daniel looked back over his shoulder at the doors. "I'm sorry. I'm really in a hurry -- my friend's a fast flier --"

     "Let us go double or nothing," Von Roo said, leaning forward. Daniel felt a breath across his neck; it was icy cold.

     He gulped and cast again. He rolled a three, Von Roo a five; thunder cracked from nowhere, and Daniel felt suddenly... drained.

     "I win!" Count Von Roo said. He looked thoughtfully at Daniel, then reached over to open the young Korbat's pack and tossed the pair of dice in. "On your way, then. I have more games to play."

     Daniel swallowed. And took to the air as quickly as possible.

     *****

     "Thanks, Coltzan!" Sandra said gratefully as she picked up the brilliant red gem from the sands in front of the shrine. Visiting a real ghost on Halloween was a great idea! (And it meant not waking anyone up, too. It had gotten quite late.)

     Sandra took a moment to stretch her wings as she thought about where to go next. The logical place was the Haunted Woods. She could go up to Terror Mountain and Tyrannia from there, then stop by Kiko Lake and Roo Island on her way home. But... the Haunted Woods. On Halloween. In the middle of the night. Alone.

     The Eyrie swallowed nervously, clicked her beak, and launched into the air again with a flurry of sand.

     Heading for Tyrannia.

     *****

     "Thank you, King Hagan," Daniel said politely, bowing out of Brightvale with a book. He'd had an unexpectedly warm welcome in the Darigan Citadel, even if it had started with Lord Darigan himself of all people looming up at him. The older Korbat had been sitting so still, grey and black in shadow, that Daniel had initially mistaken him for a gargoyle, which was rather embarrassing. King Hagan, on the other hand, had assigned him a quiz.

     Daniel was starting to tire, so he flew high and spread his wings their farthest to catch a current and hang on the air as he slid south and west. He was feeling both frightened and foolish -- he had one final destination, and he could have gone there much earlier in the night and had it over with, but instead he'd gone looping around to visit the southern islands first. He wasn't sure how far along Sandra was, but he guessed she had gone at least as far as he had -- faster if she'd taken a more sensible route.

     But he couldn't put it off any longer. The Haunted Woods loomed up as he approached them, inky darkness seeming to spread above the trees, though there were no clouds.

     A closer shadow sprang out of the air at him, and Daniel yelped and went reeling. The shadow squawked.

     Squawked? And was that a streak of fluorescent orange? Daniel let out a short ultrasonic squeak and then cried out in delight. "Sandra! It's you!"

     "Wha-- oh, Daniel!" Sandra righted herself in the air. "So, uh, how far along are you?"

     "Last stop."

     "Me too."

     They looked at each other. Daniel coughed a little. "Don't tell me a big strong Darigan Eyrie is scared to go into the Haunted Woods."

     Sandra huffed through her nose. "Aren't Korbats native to the Haunted Woods?"

     "Yeah, but there's a reason I live in Neopia Central." He glanced down. "Go in together, race you on the flight home?"

     "Sounds good. Who do we visit?"

     "...None of them seem very friendly, from the stories. And I don't really have time to play with anagrams or go on a quest." Circling overhead, Daniel noticed something he hadn't heard of before in the tales of the Haunted Woods. "Hey, that looks like a gypsy camp. They'll probably be nice, right?"

     "Maybe," Sandra said. "Or the camp could be an illusion used by magical spirits to lure people down and steal them away to another dimension."

     Daniel stared at her.

     "Um, or they could just be perfectly nice real gypsies," she added hastily.

     As they dived down into the Haunted Woods, they noticed that the place was remarkably loud. There were screams, shrieks, creaking, cracking, people running... wild laughter, thundering through the ground with a high cackle over it in the air. The two friends stuck close together as they landed just outside the edge of the camp's circle of firelight.

     A pink Elephante with heavy eyebrows and a book on his knees looked up from talking to a somewhat disheveled Usul. "Ah, more visitors!" he cried. "Come warm yourselves by the fire. Would you hear a tale? Or tell one?"

     "We're trick-or-treating," Daniel said. "We were racing each other around Neopia, but we got here the same time."

     "Hmm." The Elephante's black eyebrows jumped and drew together as he eyed the young Korbat warily. "And what tricks do you propose?"

     Sandra's eyes widened a little. "We're not looking to trick anybody," she said hastily. "It's just an expression."

     "It's just an expression you may want to be careful of in these woods!" was the reply.

     "Erm, sorry. We're just trying to visit all the lands in Neopia, and bring back some kind of a, um, token from each. You know, to prove we were there. This is our last one. It doesn't have to be anything much, really..." Her voice trailed off.

     The Elephante looked at them thoughtfully, then settled back onto his seat with a chuckle through his trunk. "Prove to whom?"

     They glanced at each other and laughed. "Well, each other, really," Daniel said. "It's just a game. But we did have to stop down here and ask, or it wouldn't have counted."

     "All the lands in a night, just for fun? Quite a flight!" Their host rumbled another laugh. "Well, if this is your last stop, have you time to rest and tell us of it?"

     "We're supposed to be home by dawn," Daniel said, "but we have a little time...."

     "Tell swiftly, then," the Elephante said. "Cheerier stories than those in my book are better for this night!"

     Sandra blinked. "They are? --But I thought Halloween was for scary stories."

     The little Usul shook her head, grinning. "Every night is for scary stories in the Haunted Woods -- except Halloween, when everything's for fun. Can't you hear the celebrating?"

     They stopped and listened... and with this new perspective, they slowly began to realize that the cacophony among the trees and clearings, for all its spooky sound, was really a party.

     "I think I've learned a lot," Sandra said slowly.

     The Elephante chuckled. "Isn't that the point of traveling, my fine young friends? You get to learn new things about the places you visit, and about yourselves!"

     They smiled at him.

     And told their tales.

     And in the end the Elephante stretched and said, "Those were good stories, and daylight is coming. You must be home before it arrives, and we must be... away. This young Usul Gilly is not of our camp, and has lost her way in the dark paths before. Might you bypass them and fly her home?"

     "Gilly?" Daniel said in surprise. "Wait -- are you that Gilly?"

     She grinned. "Yes. I'm not actually lost tonight, but I was when I first found the camp."

     "I can carry you," Sandra said, "if you point me the right direction. ...If this doesn't sound too stupid, could we have your autograph?"

     "Are you kidding? Nobody ever asked me that before. Sure."

     They half expected to end up lost on the way to Gilly's home, as she seemed to have a habit of ending up in improbable places, but arrived without incident. Granted, Sandra and Daniel were fairly disoriented by the time they got there -- but they still knew which way was up, and once they were above the trees they had no trouble.

     It no longer seemed quite so important to win the race home, somehow, but they had to fly fast nonetheless -- they'd be in trouble if they weren't home before the sun came up. They touched down together, just as the eastern sky was brightening.

     "That was wild," Daniel said, collapsing gently onto the ground like a half-folded umbrella. "But a good idea. Want to do it again next year?"

     Sandra shook out her tired wings. "Not on your life!" But then she stopped to think about it. The thrill of flight, the real challenge in distance and speed, the people she'd met and the ways they'd surprised her.... She knew there were real dangers (for instance, there was a reason she'd stuck to the touristy areas of Mystery Island, and not ventured into the heart of the jungle), but it had definitely been worthwhile. "Actually," she said more slowly, "sure. Make it a tradition." They started walking toward their Neohomes. "But next year, I'm going to exercise more."

The End

 
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