Media's Right Hand
“Have you completed my quest?” The voice of the Brain Tree seemed to resonate all the way up from his roots; his eyes glowed red, his branches shuddered, and his heavy orange brain seemed to move slightly.
The small Pteri, overcome by fear, thrust forward a scrap of paper clutched tightly in her wing. “Benjamin Usul died in the Haunted Woods in the year 18 B.N.” She shook so violently that her yellow feathers looked as if they might shake loose and fall in a circle on the forest floor.
The Brain Tree rumbled and groaned in approval. He reached a limb down into his roots and pulled out a rusty hunk of metal. “Your reward is a Lucky Robots Foot. Return again soon to complete another of my quests.”
With no intention of doing any such thing, the Pteri rushed forward to grab the prize, dropping her slip of paper. She backed away slowly for a moment, then turned and ran off into the perpetual darkness of the forest.
* * * * *
Media glanced at the piece of paper in her hand. The writing said: Benjamin Usul, Haunted Woods, 18 BN. The purple Acara put the scrap in the pocket of her hooded cloak and looked around.
The Haunted Woods was the last stop on her journey. Media slid the strap of her satchel off her shoulder, laying the heavy bag down on the ground. She bent down to open the flap.
Ignoring the moist, pink brains which crowded the recesses of the sack, Media quickly grabbed the four small bones that were squeezed into a corner. She closed the flap and stood up.
Ghosts frequently roamed the forest, but there was only one that she sought.
Cupping the bones in both hands and raising them over her head, Media began to chant. “I call across the land, to thee.” She closed her eyes. “I call across all time, to thee.” The Acara concentrated on the year 18 B.N. in her mind, as she had done countless times before. “I call to thee, Benjamin Usul.” She threw the bones to the ground, and cried with a terrible voice: “Rise!”
In his distant grave, Media knew that the Neopet had been awoken from his restful slumber. She waited as he was summoned, through miles of soil and rock, until she saw a glow amidst the bones on the ground.
A blue vapor rose from a single point in the earth. Like a genie from a bottle, the specter of a Usul appeared before her, his eyes red and bloodshot as a reminder of the sleep from which he had been awakened.
With no time to hesitate, Media reached forward wordlessly with her right hand. It penetrated the eerie mist that formed the Usul’s head, disappearing up to the wrist where his ear had been.
When she withdrew her hand, it clutched a brain.
The purple Acara deposited it in the satchel with the others. She hoisted the bag onto her shoulder once more and turned away.
Behind her, the ghost shuddered. His eyes lost their color and his pupils shrank, until they were mere dots that stared ahead blankly. The glow began to fade, and his form started to solidify, until he became whole and stood on the ground. His body had been returned—decayed from years of burial.
Media had seen the transformation too many times to care. She had done her wicked duty too many times to feel remorse.
The creature behind her opened its rotting mouth.
Media had heard the groaning plea too many times to listen.
* * * * *
Normally, Media would simply drop her filled satchel behind the Brain Tree’s massive trunk and leave. When she returned later, it would be empty of brains and replenished with new papers containing names, locations, and years—and, of course, Neopoints.
But this time, the Tree’s red eyes weren’t staring straight ahead in his usual deep thought. They were scrunched closed, the brown bark wrinkling as it was squeezed tight. As the purple Acara looked up, pushing her hood back, she saw why.
A ladder had been leaned against the back of the Brain Tree, and a Mynci was perched on the third-highest rung. He had a bag similar to Media’s hanging at his waist. She watched as he pulled a fresh brain—she could tell by the color and firmness—out of the satchel and carefully leaned forward, touching it to the mass of orange contours that bulged in the center of the branches.
There was an electric zap, and the Brain Tree shuddered. Media saw the smaller brain turn grey and shrivel a little, as the larger one seemed to grow ever so slightly.
The Mynci tossed the organ carelessly to the ground, where it bounced once before joining a few others in a sort of pile. As he reached for another, he looked down and saw Media staring up at him.
“Hi there,” he said with a smile. Media thought he looked like he should be working at the Deserted Fairground; everything about him was insincere, from his fake-fancy clothes to his pearly grin. “You can just leave the bag on the ground, there.”
The purple Acara obliged, taking a few hesitant steps forward and dropping the satchel. “So that’s how he uses them,” she said, half to herself. “I never knew what the Brain Tree did to transfer the knowledge.”
“Yep, this is the process, in all its glory,” said the Mynci, returning to his work. “It looks pretty gross, eh? But I tell you, this Tree is a genius. Can you imagine figuring out that he can take brains from dead old ghosts and get all the information in them for himself? And these other Neopets, they just help him out with these ‘quests’, all for a cheap prize.”
“Clever,” said Media, raising an eyebrow. She didn’t bring up the fact that, without their brains, the bodies of the ghosts would become undead zombies. It was something she preferred not to dwell upon.
“You know,” said the Mynci, tossing another brain to the ground, “if you want, I can just take your bag and give you a fresh one. Then you don’t have to come back for it.”
Media glanced at the Brain Tree, wondering what this process felt like for him. There was another zap as the Neopet on the ladder applied additional knowledge.
“Sure,” said the Acara, “that would be fine.”
The Mynci wiped his nose with a finger that was still moist with cranial fluid. “Right there, between those two thick roots,” he said. “It should have a few names and such. I think they’re from Terror Mountain.”
Media found the new satchel and picked it up. The papers were there, as well as a sack of Neopoints. “Thanks.”
“If you see any more of the Tree’s agents around, send them straight here,” added the Mynci as Media began walking away. “I’d like to get home early tonight.”
Media nodded as she lifted the hood of her cloak over her head. She didn’t associate with any of the other Neopets who worked for the Brain Tree; there was only one reason she took this job, and it was jingling in the bag at her waist.
* * * * *
A cold wind blew down from the rocky grey peaks, carrying stinging flurries of snow on its icy breath.
Wrapping her cloak more tightly around her body, the purple Acara trudged onward. Technically, she only needed to be within the borders of the land to call upon its spirits, but she liked to get a bit closer to be safe. Media didn’t want to take any chances when she summoned the dead.
When she was certain that her feet were within the boundaries of Terror Mountain, she reached into the bag. Four tiny bones were there as usual; Media picked them up with her left hand. At the bottom were several wrinkled slips of paper. She withdrew the first one and looked at it.
Adam Acara, Terror Mountain, Y5.
She read it again.
The name rang through Media’s head like the reverberations of a gong. Her left hand dropped to her side, the four white bones falling into the soft snow.
In an instant, all of Media’s thoughts centered on that one day, five years ago, when she had thrown open the door of the cabin only to find her parents sitting outside her brother’s room, and she had run to his bedside even though she knew by the looks on their faces that it was too late, and she had cried his name again and again to deaf ears...
The word escaped her lips and was lost on the cold Terror Mountain wind. The purple Acara slid the strap of her satchel off of her shoulder, kneeling down in the snow, burdened by a sudden weight.
With that whispered word—though she didn’t realize it at first—the final rule of the enchantment had been fulfilled. The bones had been cast, the time and place had been recalled, and the name had been spoken.
A familiar blue tendril slithered up from the place in the snow where the four bones had fallen. Media, still kneeling, pushed back the hood of her cloak as she watched the shape rise out of the ground, until her brother was floating before her. He looked the same as he ever had, except that he was a transparent blue, and he seemed terribly tired.
Still, he forced a smile when he saw her face.
The purple Acara lifted her right hand to her lips.
He looked at it. “Are... are you a ghost too? Is this why I’m seeing you?”
Media pulled her hand away from her face and stared at it. “What do you...?” but then she saw what he meant.
Her right hand, like his body, seemed to waver in the chilly breeze. It was a bit pale, something she had been noticing recently but hadn’t had time to think about. But now, now that she looked, it was almost as if...
“I’m not a ghost.” Media sniffed and let her hand fall to her side. She was not a ghost. But she had seen so many, and reached through them to grab hold of their minds; now it seemed her hand had touched one ghost too many. Her hand was losing its substance. She had stolen more than just brains; she had stolen a residue of spirit.
Adam reached out with his own hand, as if to help her up. Media put her right hand forth, and they touched. Hers went through his with a cold sensation, like dipping into water.
But of course he couldn’t help her up, and she stood of her own strength. Glowing strands clung to her fingers. The two were eye to eye now.
“So what were you doing, then? Why did you call me?”
Media felt her eyes and throat burning.
She was working for the Brain Tree. She was going to steal his brain and make him a zombie. She was going to force him to live the life of an undead, roaming Neopia with an insatiable appetite for brains, which, even if he ate them, would not restore his own to him.
“I...” Her eyes fell to the ground. “...missed you.”
Adam smiled. Media had never seen one of the ghosts smile before.
“I’ll see you soon enough,” he said softly. “Be happy while you are here, but don’t worry. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Media blinked, and a liquid diamond fell to the snow. After a pause, she bent down and tried to gather the four bones, only to find that her right hand passed through them as if it didn’t exist.
“I can say it this time.” She stood up with the bones in her left hand and looked into his red eyes. Media was silent for a moment; she sniffled again. “Goodbye, Adam.”
With two fingers, she broke one of the bones in half. The ghost before her vanished, leaving behind traces of blue mist that were carried off by the cold Terror Mountain wind.
* * * * *
Media clutched the neck of her cloak, keeping the hood drawn tight over her head. The satchel at her waist was heavy, but she didn’t dare move to adjust it. Not when she was about to complete another mission.
The zombie hobbled closer, bumping into one of the bare trees of the Haunted Woods as it stumbled along its miserable way. The purple Acara peered at it from her hiding place in the shadows.
She counted down, waiting for the precise moment.
When she was ready, Media reached into the bag and pulled out a brain—grey, but firm and full of all of the knowledge that could be gained from a simple touch to the great orange brain of the Tree.
She leapt out and tackled the zombie, which let out a howl. Media pressed the brain against its head with her left hand. In one smooth motion, she used her ghostly right hand to push the brain through the creature’s skull.
Media leapt back, pulling her right hand out of the zombie’s head, and watched.
All she needed was a spark. Just one little zap of knowledge that the Brain Tree had stolen. Media knew that the brain, like the others in her bag, was filled with a part of every Neopet that had been zombified; she could only hope that the little piece that was his own would be enough to return this Pet’s identity.
The zombie froze and grew stiff.
His body began to fade, just as Media’s right hand had gradually paled and become transparent over time.
She watched as the Neopet glowed a brilliant blue before being lifted slowly up into the air. He sailed off, flying over the trees, rushing back to the grave in which he would finally be able to rest in peace.
Media wasn’t sure, but every time she set another zombie free, the spirit seemed to smile as it was carried off, silhouetted against the starry sky.