Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 135,120,765 Issue: 267 | 22nd day of Storing, Y8
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The Far Side: Part One

by redcod323


Felda shivered under her jacket. It was mid-autumn, and the middle of the night. She twitched her Kyrii nose, drawing the fabric of her coat closer around her. She was lost, on the Far Side of Neopia. She was surrounded by the trees of an unnamed forest.

     Hers had been a woeful life, full of false hopes and crushed dreams. She'd spent much of her younger years skipping from orphanage to orphanage, narrowly avoiding being sent to the Pound several times. She'd grown into a specimen that would have been beautiful, had she the time to scrub the filth from her blue-green coat, and had it not been the set of her jaw and the hate in her eyes that spoke of terrible things rather left unsaid.

     But then the Big Hope had come, on the wings of a traveling Uni, preaching the untapped riches and the unspoiled beauty of the Far Side. Beautiful things had been painted in those words, but those words were empty. She stared around her, and wondered how she had ever fallen for such sweet words. The Uni had spoken of adventure, daring questing to be done. Those liquid brown eyes had looked incapable of concealing truth, and perhaps they had not. Perhaps the Uni himself had believed his own painted words.

     Felda had fallen for the ruse, scrounging together what little she had, which was a pitiful amount. It all fit in the pockets of her jacket. She gave up the meager pouch full of Neopoints that was the results of years of saving, and had forked it all over to pay for the ferry ride to the Far Side.

          When the boat had pulled into the faraway port, it seemed as if the Uni's words had been true: The great trees were just turning the purest gold, or the deepest red, seemingly concealing the treasure that lay within with their bows. Great, green mountains marched away to the horizon, and the sun was high and gold.

     But one step within those trees revealed the truth: an untamed wilderness, with shadows lurking behind every tree, with unnamed beasts calling out into the darkness. The Uni had spoken of new civilizations found over the next hill, and of streets paved with bricks of gold. Felda had marched boldly into the forest, mind clouded with the dreams of the ignorant. But soon the cold had crept in, and the moon cast a silver light upon a shadowy world. She was lost, with no hope of ever being found.

     She stumbled into a clearing where the full moon cast an eerie light. The leaves were turned silver, and the stones were bleached. Wait--stones? She walked over, still shivering, and found a circle of stones and the charred remnants of a fire. She looked around, but saw no one. Upon closer inspection, within the trees was revealed a lean-to with stocks of dry wood and tinder. This was obviously a place for travelers to stop and rest, but who were those travelers?

     She grabbed a few armfuls of wood from the shack, and stacked them neatly by the fire pit. She took out the flint and tinder that had been the result of one of her numerous dumpster dives back in Neopia Central, and soon huddled by the fire, warming her cold bones. She drifted off into a light sleep, and awoke at every sudden noise. Several times that night she put wood on the fire when it burned low.

     When morning came, it once again seemed as if the Uni's words had indeed been the purest form of truth: The yellowing leaves gently fell from the branches, like a golden rain, and the sky was so blue it hurt the eyes. The forest seemed to invite her inside it, to wrap around her with its bows and hold her forever in its green embrace. She spied something she hadn't seen in the moonlight the night before: a narrow trail winding through the trees. It looked as if it had been forged by a wayward traveler, unsure of their destination, or like the trail of a wild petpet, yet untamed and stumbling its way through the brush to who knew where.

     She put the flint and tinder back in her pocket, along with a shiny pebble she'd randomly picked up. She walked along the trail, warily pricking her ears as she heard a rustling in the leaves. She looked in the trees, to just catch the briefest glimpse of a fleeing shadow. She halted in her tracks. "Who's there?" There was a noise to her left, and she spun around to see a pair of eyes peering through the underbrush at her. She tensed, old instincts honed from surviving on the streets coming back to her. "Come out."

     Out from the brush stepped a red Xweetok. The poor thing looked in worse condition than she did: Fur tangled and matted with filth, let to grow too long, if only for the added warmth it would offer, nails chipped and jagged, and ribs beginning to show. But most haunting of all were her eyes, eyes that Felda knew too well. They were eyes that had stared back at her from oily puddles and broken glass when she had been alone, and at the lowest point in her life. "Who are you?" she asked in a quiet voice that was hoarse from screaming her throat raw on too many nights.

     "My name is Felda. Who are you, Xweetok?"

     "I'm Rednah."

     "How did you come to be in such a place in such a condition?"

     The Xweetok smiled a sardonic smile, and for the briefest moment a glimmer of life sparked in her eyes. She told a story similar to Felda's own: Many early days alone, scrounging for meals, diving in dumpsters, and growing to such a condition that even the people at the Soup Kitchen turned her away. Until the day had come when a Uni had breezed into her life, speaking sweet and melodious words that painted the picture she had sought. So it was that she had come to this place, lost as Felda was, seeking things that did not exist. It was then that she made the request, "I have been here for many nights I do not care to count, and I know at least a little of this unnamed place. I am tired of being cold every night. If it's not too much trouble... could I travel with you?"

     One look in those eyes and Felda knew that the Xweetok would not survive if she refused. "Yes. I'm tired of being cold at night too. Who knows, maybe we can find more people that accursed Uni sent to this place."

     Rednah nodded energetically, and led her through the forest, to a place where the forest started to thin out and rolling plains began. It was beautiful, but silent and empty, the long grass tossed by the wind, a sea of gold that went uninterrupted to the very ends of Neopia. It was then that Felda took in the true gravity of the situation, the true vastness of this land, and the shrinking chance of ever finding their way out. As if Rednah could read it in her eyes, she said quietly, "I thought you needed to see this. I first realized it here too." She quietly turned around and started back into the forest, and Felda followed suite.

     Trudging their way back through the forest, Felda remembered something that had been bothering her. "Rednah? Last night, the place I camped, it looked as if it had been set up to accommodate travelers, and was used often."

     "I've seen such things too. There are people here, but are they the people we're looking for?"

     "I'm not sure." After a few moments of silence, Felda asked, "Where are we going?"

     "To a place where I've set up a sort of home base. It's not much, but--" She was abruptly cut short as they walked into a meadow, where the remnants of a hut were strewn across the grass, mixed together with the remains of a supply of firewood. Rednah stared openmouthed, eyes starting to shine with tears. Felda placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, but saw more to this than just a shattered dream. Something didn't want them here. After a few moments, Rednah drew a few stuttering breaths and managed to say, "I worked so--so hard. It's g-gone. How...?" She slid to her knees for a moment, but her old instincts from surviving on the street soon kicked in. A Neopet wallowing in grief was an easy target.

     She got to her feet and scampered to a section of meadow, and started digging. Felda went over to her, and saw her uncovering a stash of nuts and tubers. "At least they didn't get the food," she mumbled to herself. Then she stopped digging abruptly. She looked to Felda. "Who exactly are 'They'?"

     "I wish I knew," she said quietly, angrily.

     Rednah heard the danger in her voice. "I think we're going to have to move camp." Felda only nodded, then set off to scavenge from the wreck what she could. She found little worth saving: A crude attempt to hammer a rock into a sharpened edge, misshapen clay bowls, and a length barely serviceable rope made from plant fibers. Lastly, she pulled a patched backpack out of the wreckage, and stored it all in various pockets. As she was coiling the rope, she spotted something on the ground: stone circles neatly arranged among the ruins of the hut, previously unnoticed. Upon closer inspection, they had runes on them.

     When she was younger, she'd managed to sneak into the library and had managed to read the first couple of pages of a book on ancient languages before the Lenny had kicked her out. How she remembered this she didn't know, but these markings seemed like a weird variation of those mentioned in that book. They seemed to resemble most those of cleansing and purification. Not knowing what to do, she picked two randomly and put them in a pocket on the pack far removed from the rest, just to be sure. She picked up one more, and walked to where Rednah was hastily assembling a small pile of provisions.

     She looked up. "What?" Felda told her about the stone circles, and showed her the one in her hand. She also told the Xweetok about her suspicions as to their meanings. She had been holding it in her paw, but when she heard that, she chucked it away, then shivered. "We have to get out of here."

     In the forest, Rednah slumped her shoulders, ashamed at her moment of weakness. She finally said, "I shouldn't have thrown it away. It could have come in handy. Did you get any more?"


     She relaxed noticeably, and led the way deeper into the trees. They walked for the better part of two hours, until Rednah took the pack of her back and motioned for Felda to stay still. She crept forward into the trees, and peered through the bracken. She waved her hand frantically at the Kyrii, meaning for her to come there quietly and bring the pack.

     Confused at what she meant, she walked over and also peered through the leaves. Carefully pulling a handful aside, she gaped in astonishment at what she saw: the trees ended abruptly and there was a large meadow with an even larger lake. At the far end of the lake, a wide river flowed in through the trees. But it was not the lake that made them stare; it was the people on it.

     Long, narrow, wooden canoes were pulled onto the shore and a village of squat wooden huts hugged the shore where the trees had been cleared away. But the most astonishing thing of all, was that the village was crawling with humans: Human children splashed in the shallow waters, watched over by their mothers who were busy weaving or mending. Human males spear-fished farther down the shore, where the river met the lake. Human elders sat around a fire near the edge of the village, and the village itself was a constant whirl of activity. And there was not a Neopet in sight.

     Painted on the side of the largest hut were runes similar to the ones on the rocks back at the wreckage. They had found the culprit. But why were there no Neopets? Rednah said quietly, "What should we do?"

     "Reconnaissance." Felda was already preparing herself to begin the mission. "First order of business, we need a meeting point. We're going to have to split up." She led them further back into the trees, where there was a large dip in the ground between the two roots of a tree, and an empty burrow of some animal was dug into the side. She held out her hand for the pack, and Rednah handed it over. Felda took off her coat and stuffed it in there with it, far enough back to conceal it from any passerby.

     Rednah said quietly, "I'll do some looking around the village. Where are you going?"

     "I'm going to investigate by the old people by the fire over there. Seems like they're talking up a storm." Rednah nodded and set out for the village, moving quietly as a shadow.

     Felda slunk through the trees to the place where the elders were sitting. The language they were speaking had an almost perfect resemblance to Neopish, her own language, but with the odd slur on the occasional vowel. Seemed they were talking about the results of the fishing lately, until the group of children sprinted over and collapsed themselves a respectful distance away. The old ones finished their conversation before turning to the children. The smallest peeped up, "Can yo tell ush da shtory?"

     One of the old women smiled. "Which one, dear?"

     "Da--Da one bout da beasht war."

     The leader of the group, an old, old man with a cackling voice, started the tale. "Long, long ago there was once a race of beasts. They came in many shapes and sizes, some with fur so soft it seemed like the petals of a thousand Kilfa flowers, and some so fierce that the very ground trembled when they roared. They lived in harmony with us, and we with them. They helped us to fish and build and to guard our children, and in return, we invited them into our homes, and all was good.

     "But that was before the day when the Winged Ones came, and bestowed upon the beasts great and terrible powers. They turned on us, using their abilities to force us into submission, and proclaiming themselves the Great Ones here on Neopia. But they underestimated our intelligence. We were greater than they!

     "So the War began. We fought with shields and spears, and they with fire from their eyes and shields raised from the very earth. But we were destined to succeed, and we wiped them from the forests and the meadows and the sea, and the Great Ones lived no more. The Winged Ones left with them. It is said that the beasts still live somewhere, in some place, but this is Man's Land now!" He stopped speaking as the children threw up a small cheer.

     Felda snuck away from the cheering crowd and slipped back to the tree to wait for Rednah. After the shadow of the tree had lengthened a couple of feet, the footsteps of the Xweetok could be heard. She slipped out from the undergrowth, and upon seeing Felda, she rushed over to her side and shivered. "We have a problem." Upon questioning, she refused to say anything further. Instead, she led the Kyrii toward the village. As they neared the small collection of wooden huts, they could see an odd gathering around a kind of central square. There was a collection of crude cages hastily fashioned out of branches. Each cage held a Neopet. And over to the left, slumped over in defeat, was the blue Uni whose sweet words had started it all.

     There were ten cages in all. There was the Uni, an Eyrie, a Shoyru, a Pteri, a Draik, a Tuskaninny, a Lutari, a Moehog, a Kougra, and a Wocky. Most looked like they were from worse walks of life than her. She'd at least had pretty regular, if not entirely decent, meals. These pets looked like they had been on the streets from day one, standing in between buildings in dark alleys jingling a cup of change. Like they were hoping to scrounge enough together to purchase a meal every other day, and often finding it wasn't enough.

     They looked as if they were the type of pets that had to search their way through the lowliest newbie's shops and buy all the scrawnyfish they had. All of the pets with wings or webbed feet seemed to be the worst off, not having enough money to pay for the ferry ride, and having to either fly or swim their own way here. The Moehog, the Kougra and the Wocky seemed to be slightly better off, but only slightly. They seemed to have had about a good a time as Felda had had in her past. They often shot angry glances at the Uni, because he was the one who had gotten them into this mess, but then they laid their heads down again and resign themselves to their fates.

     The fire had a circle of stones around it much like the ones back in the wreckage of Rednah's shack, and there were burnt bones spilled over the edge. Rednah shuddered next to Felda. "What are we going to do?"

To be continued...

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