Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 177,767,807 Issue: 385 | 27th day of Running, Y11
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What Was Written


by macana

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The dust stung Bledynn’s eyes. He never remembered Goldrun or the surrounding valley to be so inhospitable. Yet he knew very well that Goldrun had never been like this before.

      For so long now the city had been home to many adventurous gold prospectors who settled here in the hope of finding gold in the crystalline Wadjet river, flowing to the Altadorian sea from the mountains. However, very few of them became so lucky as to find even a single speck of the precious metal, and instead took on essential roles such as farming or crafting.

      Bledynn’s father was one of them, running a local post office. It was thanks to him that the Yellow Skeith was never allowed to grow as fat as many of his species, instead becoming strong and lean, like the wild Nuks that wandered the plains. Bledynn enjoyed being a postal runner, even if this required quite a bit of a skill of which he had none: diplomacy. However, you could always rely on him to either fly or run to deliver a message quickly.

      But no message was needed to be delivered now. Something strange was happening. Usually in this season the Wadjet river was blooming with water, but this year, there was only the dry river bed. The town of Goldrun, however, was so proud of its self reliance that nothing was done about it. That was of course, until the plague came. Pets became ill without warning, often being perfectly fine in the morning but barely moving from their beds in the evening. Bledynn was often given the task of delivering the letters informing of death to families, a task that tore him apart, like a storm cloud splits the sky. He never spoke to the families he delivered the letters to, knowing how sad it must be for them to even receive the black envelope.

      Gradually the two problems, plague and lack of water, became too much for even Goldrun to handle. Sheriff Ellie had called a meeting in the town square this morning to discuss her solution to the crisis in the town. Bledynn hoped with all his heart that she had come up with something. Every speck of life in this town, from the petpetpets that lived under the floorboards of the saloon, to the great petpet steeds that carried adventurers around Goldrun, depended on her.

      Slowly Bledynn mingled with the crowd that had gathered in the square to listen, taking care not to push anybody, although judging by the haggard looks in the eyes of the townspeople; nobody was keen to pick a fight. This was too desperate and too solemn an occasion. Nobody felt right even coughing. Aside from the haunting whispering of the wind trying to shift the dust, there was no noise.

      Sheriff Ellie came out onto the square, looking older than the sands on which she stood. Her face was worn with worry and the always cheerful smile and determined twinkle in her dark blue eyes was gone. She held one of her hooves behind her back as if unsure. It was as if she had aged ten years in just a few weeks. Bledynn’s heart tightened a little to see the proud and noble sheriff looking so broken. There was shifting in the crowd as some of them lowered their eyes, staring mournfully at the flattened sand covering square.

      However, as soon as the Spotted Kau spoke a wave of relief passed over the crowd. The Sheriff’s voice, while sometimes wavering, was strong and clear as it always had been. Bledynn’s face remained still, but inside he felt something let go. If a rock was needed during this hard time, it would always be Ellie

      “People of Goldrun! Y’all know of the illness that has struck the town and the fact that we’re powerless against it. However, we do know that the rest of Neopia might ‘ave a cure for this -”

     Her voice was drowned out by the rage of the crowd. It was as if an egg had been broken, releasing the yolk over everything. Bledynn himself was caught up in the fury, his blood running through his veins like lava runs on the volcanic mountains, filling every single one of his cells with burning rage and pride. Goldrun was not weak; it could survive alone without any outside contact! They did not want any Neopians poking around in their town, organising things as they want them!

      A loud noise rippled above the heads of the enraged mob, stunning them into silence. Ellie held her cork gun above her head and one of her hooves on the trigger. The Kau’s face betrayed nothing but her stance reflected her anger.

      “Would y’all rather die from the illness?! None of us want to abandon our independence but I would gladly do so if it meant saving the town,” she shouted at the crowd. Many of them blinked as if they had awoken from a deep dream and slowly, if reluctantly returned to their places. Even Bledynn was shamed by those words. He bit his lip, restraining his pride like he would restrain a wild petpet.

      “Now, listen. I wish to alert Neopia in the most straightforward way and the one that will guarantee that help will come first,” she said and brought out her hoof. In it rested a message, nothing but a simple scroll tied with a piece of string. It was so simple and yet elegant in its most basic form.

      Ellie held it out in front of her like a revered artefact and started walking through the crowd, her footsteps reassured and confident as if she was about to make an arrest. Everyone parted before her as if she was a Horus diving through a flock. It took Bledynn a few seconds to work out that the Kau was heading right for him!

      She stopped and the crowd closed behind her. Bledynn’s throat went dry. He took messages for Ellie once or twice, but he was never this close to her, the Sheriff of all Goldrun. There was an aura of authority around her that was stronger than anything, so strong in fact that Bledynn was convinced that Ellie could survive any disaster, even the world turning inside out. It was not easy to face her, not even for him. However, he forced himself to, although he could not meet the gaze of those piercing eyes that took you apart in mere seconds. She was a sheriff for a reason.

      “Bledynn, seeing as you are the fastest runner we have, would you take upon yourself the responsibility of delivering this message?” she asked him softly, trying not to be too intimidating.

      Bledynn took the message from her, putting it into his bag. “I’ll do my best, ma’am!” He smiled a little sheepishly when taking the message out of her hand. It crinkled a little in his grip, so fragile and yet so important. With hesitation, Bledynn put it into a compartment on his bag.

      One of Ellie’s deputies, a small blue Quiggle, came forward with another bag laden with supplies that Bledynn gratefully took. It was only now that he realised how intently people from all around the square looked at him, a faint spark of hope in their eyes. With a heavy heart the Skeith realised that he was their hope. If the message was not delivered, there would be no Goldrun.

      It did not matter which way he went; he was bound to find help. Bledynn noted the sun of high noon, flying over them like a vulture. The direction was his to pick. Slowly, he turned to face the west and began walking. The crowd parted before him hurriedly and slightly fearfully. For the first time, the responsibility of this task hit Bledynn like a heat wave in a cool summer. He tried to forget it, not to let it interfere with putting one foot in front of the other, but it was difficult. The Skeith left Goldrun with a heavy heart.

      It took three weeks of both running and a little flying for him to reach anything significant. There was so little beyond the Wadjet River’s valley except the dust, sand and dirt of the desert. It was strange to be so far from home, going right for something that would have been greatly frowned upon not long ago. The disease had changed everything.

      There was a wadi ahead, but no river flowed out of it. Bledynn would have thought it had been sculpted by the wind if it wasn’t for a single flat strip of land with subtle wave patterns in it; the marks of a dead river. Yet from within it rose a few faint columns of smoke and Bledynn knew from delivering messages to camps of gold prospectors that this was usually the sign of camp fires. Where was there was fire, there were people, even in a wadi such as this one. Hope reflected on his step, as it took on a spring that had not been there since he left Goldrun.

      However, as he progressed farther and farther up the wadi, Bledynn heard no noise of a camp. No speech echoed off the sheer cliffs that surrounded him like a pack of wild Lupes on a petpet hunt. There was nothing to suggest that life had ever bloomed within this wadi. Yet he followed the curling walls, going deeper and deeper into it as if drawn by something. Bledynn put a hand on the cork gun he always had with him. Better safe than sorry was the motto when exploring in the wilderness and this was certainly no exception.

      As he rounded the last bend, a terrified gasp escaped him. Nested at the end of the wadi with its back to the cliff was a ruined city raised on a platform of rock. This was where the smoke was coming from, but now there was none. Bledynn cursed, not caring if it echoed off the rocks or not. There was nobody to hear anything anyway.

      However, the city was safer than the open desert. With the darkness gathering Bledynn knew it was time to break camp. He walked into the city gates, surprised by the feeling this place evoked; he was afraid. The city was most certainly abandoned but there were a few scurries here and there, too large for wild petpets. His hand remained on the cork gun. Even his steps on the rock seemed too loud here, compared to the sands of the desert.

      Bledynn finally found a good spot in a ruined building that was sheltered from the wind and dust. He cursed himself for coming so far into the wadi, for being led astray into a dead end. Who knew what Goldrun was like after three weeks? They could desperately need help and he couldn’t do anything about it.

      A howl silenced all thought, turning his blood as cold as the surrounding night desert. Bledynn sat up, his breath speeding up along with his heart. There was something here with him.

      It did not take long for the Skeith to find out what. A ghost Lupe dressed in the royal attire of the Lost Desert appeared before him, its lips curled away to reveal several sharp sets of teeth. Bledynn needed no further encouragement. He leapt up, picking up his cork gun and firing it at the ghost. Yet the cork did not even register the Lupe, flying through it lazily and slamming against the wall, sending a puff of dust from it. A scream of frustration left Bledynn as he charged at it with the gun, wielded like a club, but only succeeded in going through the ghost.

      “Forgive me. I do not wish to kill you, but I have to,” the ghost said with genuine sadness in his voice.

      Bledynn, however, was not moved at all. He looked around the room frantically for a weapon, anything to defend himself with.

      Something was behind him. Bledynn spun around and immediately ducked as Gelert mummy with a giant sword lunged at him. It snarled and lunged again, but this time Bledynn was ready, holding his gun by the barrel, using the large handle as a club.

      His strike landed on the mummy; it fell down and hit the stone floor hard, too hard. Whatever magic was holding it together failed, and the creature collapsed in a pile of bones and bandages, the sword lying on top. The sword of an undead creature would do more against the ghost than Bledynn's cork gun. Picking up the sword, he once again faced the beast.

      The spirit circled him once, eyeing him like a predator eyes a small creature. Swallowing his fear, Bledynn met the gaze of the creature.

      “Come on, ain’t you got the guts to attack?!” the Skeith shouted at the Lupe, trying to stay calm. He must not show that he was frightened.

      They mirrored each other's moves for some time, neither daring to attack. Bledynn, however, did not have the patience for such a standoff. He swung at the Lupe with the sword and let out an overjoyed whoop as the Lupe was knocked back by the force of the hit. His joy, however, was short-lived. The ghost stood up, and this time it was clearly going to attack.

      The spirit leapt at him, smashing into the Skeith’s body and winding him against the stones. Bledynn just managed to scrabble out from beneath the Lupe before it bit him but did not avoid the cold chill of the paw slapping across his body.

      The next attack he blocked with the sword, much to the Lupe’s apparent annoyance. Yet there was no belligerence in his expression, no hatred that would be expected of an enemy.

      “I am sorry, I’m afraid I cannot let you go back. You cannot go back,” it said, looking at Bledynn with those sad, wise eyes. He only scowled, holding the sword in front of him.

      “You can burn the land, you can boil the sea but I’m still free, ghost. No matter what you do, I am getting out alive,” Bledynn spat. Yet his bravery was for show, to make himself feel that he was not afraid. In truth, the Skeith knew that he could not win this fight, even with the sword by his side. The spirit was too strong. Four fighters might have stood a chance, but it was only him here now. The only chance to survive and save Goldrun was to run; something that he neither relished the thought of, or ever done before. Bledynn, however, was wise enough to understand that Goldrun was more important than his broken pride.

      He turned. The Lupe saw its chance. It went for Bledynn’s back, jaws hanging open. He felt them snap as they closed shut and realised, to his horror, that the ghost was clutching the messenger’s bag. Bledynn’s instincts took over, sending him into a mad panic. He fought and struggled with the bag, trying to get it off and get away from this creature.

      The bag came off easily and hung there in the spirit’s mouth. Bledynn needed no further encouragement. He ran away, footsteps echoing off the stones like the strange song of some bird. A rip of paper drowned out his steps for a brief moment and for the first time since running, Bledynn’s mind took control. Horror overcame him, a horror greater than what he felt facing the Lupe.

      Ellie’s message, the message that could have saved Goldrun, was destroyed. He had let it be destroyed.

      Bledynn screamed a curse, but it was lost to the wind. A sandstorm had whipped up while he was battling the ghost, howling like the Lupe itself. Sand stung his skin like a thousand angry buzzers but no pain could match the guilt stabbing at his heart. There was nothing in Goldrun for him now. He did not dare go back knowing that he had lost their once chance to be saved. Blindly, Bledynn kept walking through the sandstorm, not caring where he went as long as it was away from the city and not towards his home.

      Somehow, he stumbled into a small nook in the wadi’s wall, just out of reach of the sand and big enough for a tent. The Skeith sat down, relishing the sand not grating away at him, yet the guilt did not lessen. With a heavy heart he set up his tent in the book of the wadi and decided to wait this storm out. It could not last too long.

      Bledynn looked down at his sword, managing to smile a little. It - no, she - had saved his life back there in the city. For the first time he managed to look at the sword. She was a beautiful scimitar into which ancient Lost Desert runes were carved, spelling something in a language unknown to the Skeith. But it added to her charm and mystique like beautiful jewels on a treasure chest. Bledynn was never one for sentimentality, but the sword still saved his life. She needed to be honoured in some way.

      “My beauty, I think I’ll call ya... Vera,” Bledynn said after a while, liking how the name sounded. It had a graceful but somehow sharp sting, like the sword itself.

      Bledynn put Vera to the side and thought of his predicament. With luck, the storm would pass soon, but the Skeith was not sure if he even wanted it to pass. The sand whirling outside was the only thing that gave him an excuse to stay where he was, not to think of going anywhere. Bledynn knew that Goldrun would never accept him back. His spotless record on previous assignments was ruined. It was a disheartening to have this dent in his pride.

      He did not have long to brood, though. Sand once again whipped his face before being blocked out by a skeleton Aisha. Bledynn, however, did not flinch. The skeleton was clearly a lot weaker than the ghost and with the storm eating away at it as well. With Vera by his side, it would be no problem. Casually, he picked her up and slammed her through the skeleton.

      He was lucky. The skeleton was caught off guard and Vera buried herself deep into the bones. Bledynn brought her down again, breaking the undead skeleton into two. It writhed for a moment before becoming silent and still. He pushed the creature out of the tent and waited for the storm to end. The undead could come; he was ready.

     ***

      It was the longest sandstorm he had ever known. While it lasted, Bledynn killed many undead creatures, Vera's strikes never failing him. During all this time the Skeith did not think about the message, trying to stay cheerful and alert.

      Then, exactly three weeks after the fight with the ghost, he spotted a band of adventurers consisting of a white Blumaroo, a blue Acara, a green Eyrie and a red Techo heading towards the ruined city. He was delighted to see them after six weeks in the desert with nobody but the hordes of those freaking undead and wind for company.

      Bledynn told them about himself, the city, the Lupe and, with considerable pride, about Vera and how she saved him. They were very good listeners, if a little puzzled by what he was doing out in the middle of the desert and his accent. The Blumaroo was the only one who spoke while the others waited for him.

      Eventually they left, lost to the anger of the storm outside. He warned them about the city, but they seemed anxious to check it out, muttering some strange things about medallions and simulations. Bledynn laughed a little on hearing such weird things.

      “Have fun!” he called out after them, although there was no doubt that his words were dissolved in the storm. A growl came from somewhere nearby. Bledynn’s smile grew a little wider and more genuine. He stroked Vera, who was hanging from his belt, eager for some action, and prepared to dispatch another creature.

     ***

      It was strange to wake up three days later to complete silence. It was as if the wind had fallen asleep, letting the sand finally settle into the dunes. Looking out of his tent, Bledynn saw no traces of undead. Sadness and confusion that lurked in the deep regions of his heart, only suppressed by the constant threat of the undead now arose to fill every corner of his being. He was lost now.

      The air shimmered in front of him like gossamer and the ghost that he fought appeared. Bledynn cursed very loudly and reached for Vera, holding her in front of him. The Lupe, however, did not leap or make any hostile action; he only looked down.

      “I’m sorry for what happened in the city. I wish I was able to stop it,” the ghost said, looking down on the ground. Mist was breaking off his form and being instantly vaporised by the desert heat. It seemed almost dreamlike. Bledynn, however, was not transfixed by its beauty for long. He growled and held Vera further out but the ghost did not flinch, still looking down.

      “What ‘ave you got to prove to me that you ain’t lyin’?” he asked savagely.

      The Lupe looked up past Bledynn. A desert wind picked up again, but this time it was calm and guiding. It carried something that landed at the ghost’s paws, and Bledynn stole a tiny glance down.

      It was a parchment. The handwriting on it was rough but elegant. It was Ellie’s. This was all that remained of the message.

      “Bledynn, I cannot restore this message. It is tainted with whatever magic possessed me. However, there are many others that cannot be affected by it. The most determined will gather the pieces and will be able to find Goldrun. They will be able to help you. I can scatter the pieces and give it to those I trust and that way, the pieces will find their way to those who wish to help. I wish I could do more for you,” the ghost said in a deep, beautiful voice that echoed of great kindness.

      Bledynn put Vera down, unwilling to show the gratitude he felt. The emotion that swept him up was overwhelming, and in his hope, he was left without words. Only a feeble whisper escaped him.

      “Thanks,” he said, letting his eyes rest on the message. The words ‘valley of sand’ and ‘high noon’ caught his eye. Yes, this was the message from Goldrun alright.

      Once again, the wind picked up the bits of the message but they were swept away far into the sky. Bledynn watched them, satisfaction mixed with sorrow. However, the ghost smiled back at him.

      “Your work is done, the message is delivered. Go back home now, secure in the knowledge that your message is safe,” the spirit whispered.

      Bledynn picked up Vera and began packing away his tent, as well as the remains of his supplies. Then, he looked back at the ghost Lupe, a sudden thought suddenly hitting him. Panic flashed in his eyes.

      “What if -”

     Bledynn was broken off by the Lupe.

      “There is no shame in telling the truth,” he said and disappeared again into the heat shimmer. Bledynn’s face did not register any reaction, but in his mind, those words echoed like in a cave.

      “That’s... true."

The End

 
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