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Beneath the Branches


by sylviau

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You could hear the meepits.

     At the spot where the magnificent tree’s shadow darkened the frozen ground, only the meepits’ call would have reached listening ears nearby.

     There was no one there to hear it.

     And there wouldn’t be, the Brain Tree hoped to himself. Not tonight.

     Oh, there would be plenty of new faces around, running off to fetch items for Edna all day, or otherwise taking it into the Stone Dome. The Deserted Fairground and Haunted Faire would receive a record amount of visitors; neopets dressed up in frilly costumes, all hoping that today would be the day that they’d beat the odds on one of the rigged carnival games.

     It was Halloween, after all. "A grand night for the not so good Neopians," the calendar had screamed every year. "Magic and witchery are everywhere today."

     It was these not so good Neopians that the tree was worried about.

     It had been an undisputed fact that the Brain Tree, along with Edna, the Esophagor, Eliv Thade and all the rest of the Haunted Wood’s regular inhabitants fell in among these ranks; but he had never resented it as much as he did now.

     It was not the title that bothered him. Not the swarms of irritating Neopians that came to gawk at him, to provoke him, or ask for quests and then rush off asking everyone in sight about the demise of Charles Lupe.

     The fact that they regarded him as evil, a heartless mutation, or just a mere attraction in the Haunted Woods; that was not the reason that he resented them.

     They were just so careless...

     For as long as the Brain Tree could remember, Neopians had always come to the Haunted Woods in pursuit of a daring adventure, each hoping to overcome some terrifying fiend, and return home with a prize souvenir ripped from the jaws of the beast itself.

     Such brave adventures as illustrated within the cheesy pages of their guidebooks, which suggested extreme daredevil stunts such as touring the game graveyard, trying a spooky food, or for the particularly daring – wandering into the Fairground.

     Though it was not unusual for someone noticeably bolder to come around, someone with nothing to lose and nothing to hold them back. It was these neopets, these risk takers, the ones who went out of their way to cause trouble – these were the ones that the Brain Tree despised.

     How often had he been witness to what happened when a foolish neopet had let gone out of their way to stir up trouble, and ended up paying dearly for it? Let their guard down for one instant, and regretted it?

     One moment; that’s all it took. One spilled potion, one slip of the hand. One provocation of someone you shouldn’t mess with. Too many times he had scene that scenario play out.

     Edna, Thade... they were harmless. Sure, they could turn you into a toad, or lock you in their castle and force you to speak in anagrams for a few days, but they knew where to draw the line.

     There were others, though. Malicious beings that lived for the pleasure of causing harm to others. They lurked in the forests surrounding the woods, ready to pounce on any innocent creatures that passed by.

     They were the characters of neoquest legends, of stories told to little children to get them to behave.

     It was rare for one of them to venture anywhere near the Fairground, the Defenders of Neopia had seen to that. Though there had once been a time where this wasn’t the case; back before the Deserted Fairground had become so deserted...

     The Brain Tree shook its branches, as if this would dispel the memories. Those times where over; almost all of these creatures had been chased away.

     Almost all of them...

     For there had lain the Brain Tree’s gravest secret.

     Every child who had ever grown up hearing stories from their parents had heard this one, and could recount it to you by memory. It is unimportant where the story originated, for it has been spread so many times that many details have been altered and omitted. Though the characters in the story have been changed – or perhaps they never even existed; each story supports the same truth.

     "Beware of the Beast that lurks behind the Tree..."

     These words; spoken so many times that they have seemingly lost their meaning, have never lost the truth behind them.

     No one knows what the Beast is, or where it came from. In fact, little is known about it, except for the fact that it is powerful beyond anything the Haunted Woods has ever seen before. It is said to have been formed from the darkest essence of shadows, so strong that not even faerie magic was able to banish it.

     Only once had the Beast been seen in living memory, when it broke loose and almost wreaked havoc in the Haunted Woods. It was taken care of abruptly, and has not been able to get away since.

     The Brain Tree, regarded as one of Neopia’s most malevolent beings, thrice nominated for a place in the gallery of evil, is the only thing holding the Beast back from being unleashed onto Neopia.

      The Beast that lurks behind the Tree...

     There had always been stories. Legends, that a being had existed, powerful enough that it was able to command a force so strong that not even the faeries could control it. As a result, the faeries trapped it in a lonely tree at the far corner of the Haunted Woods, where it was rooted permanently to the ground. The Beast was said to have never left its master’s side since.

     The Brain Tree had chuckled bitterly at these.

     Perhaps the stories had some truth behind them, he thought ruefully. In reality, he was trapped. As long as he remained rooted here, he could keep the Beast safely away from the rest of Neopia. It had been his job, the one he had taken up years ago.

     It was not an easy task. A daily struggle, as the Beast got restless and tried to escape. The Tree’s trunk bore the scars of his effort.

     Every day, when petty little neopets approached the Tree hoping for a quest, the Beast would take its chance. And every time the Brain Tree would barely hold it off, as the rest of the woods remained oblivious.

     It was on Hallow’s Eve that the Beast’s power was strongest. When it took every ounce of the Brain Tree’s power to hold it off, he could not afford to get distracted.

     This was also the time at which the Haunted Woods received the most visitors, all determined to visit that giant brain like tree thing their guidebooks mentioned...

     The Brain Tree broke away from his thoughts. The moment was fast approaching, and he could feel the Beast’s power shimmering through the air. As he braced himself for this year’s Halloween, he heard footsteps approaching.

     Not now...

     However, it was a familiar face that peered up through his branches.

     An Eyrie black as the night around him stared up at the Brain Tree, his eyes bright and mischievous. He was smartly dressed, and the slight figure of a Mauket lingered obediently at his side. When he spoke, his voice was light but serious.

     "I’ve blocked off this side of the path," Iskvarren informed him. "A few scouts will make sure no one gets by." Winking, he was off before the Brain Tree could respond.

     The ancient tree shifted its branches.

     True, there were those who still regarded him as one of the most malicious beings in the Haunted Woods; and there would always be a few.

     But there were also those who knew the truth about the Brain Tree, one of Neopia’s most under appreciated heroes. And as long as they were there, he would keep fighting. For them.

     That’s why he was here.

The End

 
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