It was that sound which first woke Fantesha from slumber, like nails on a chalkboard. A timorous shiver crept up her back, prickling her scales as her eyes clicked open in the dark of the Neopian night. It was the third night she had heard it, yet each time she had attempted to ignore it, squeezing her eyes shut and repeating that she was only dreaming. A sliver of unfamiliar light shone through her curtains, and she quickly found her feet, peering through the right window. Yet the source of it, she could not quite make out. She blinked twice, rubbing her eyes warily. Still it was only a faint form, if a form at all. It seemed to be breaking apart and coming back together.
Her violet eyes traveled to the clock: 12:01. Halloween.
The floor creaked, welcoming her feet in dismay as she walked to the dresser lighting the candle. Shadows flickered ominously on the walls and seemed to follow her as she crept down the stairs to the front door. The pumpkins shone dimly, yet the light was still there and the ambiguous form. "Hello?" Her voice came out, as weak as she felt. She could hear the petpetpets of the nights buzz. She clutched her blue dress tighter, an item she had gotten weeks ago through the Julien's Tasting Kitchen. "Hello?" Her voice shook, not quite as craven as before. The light flickered out, blackening the form, and darkness sweetened the air with uncertainty. She turned quickly towards the dim pumpkins, hoping it would help her sight. The candle's flame seemed to be lying flat on its side in a surreal manner that furthered the budding knowledge of who she must go to: The Dark Faerie.
The first shards of morning light pierced through Faerieland as Fantesha arrived. The glowing Healing Springs sparkled in continuity with the dew-decorated grass, and she was soon striding into Faerie City towards the large purple doors. The Dark Faerie stood waiting, arms crossed. "Do you have that Blue Bike yet?" Her heels tapped on the marble floor, resounding throughout the regal room. Fantesha gulped, having forgotten she was on a quest. Instinctively she gazed upwards in an avoidant manner, yet the ceiling gave little solace, as it was floors above her own head and made her dizzy. It must have been at least a week ago that the Faerie had come to her, yet the flurry of getting her costume ready for Halloween and buying the appropriate spooky food to throw their annual family Halloween celebration had kept her so busy. She must have at least bought the item though, she thought to herself now returning her eyes to the livid faerie.
"I had a question for you!" Fantesha delivered quickly.
Fantesha reached a hand into her Neopian knapsack, feeling around for a minute, before finally withdrawing the shiny bike and handing it over. The faerie waved her hand dismissively, and Fantesha could feel a tickle sing through her veins. Hit points increased by two. Always a good rush. Yet the stories her friends had told her clouded her head with worry.
"I think someone's after me," Fantesha announced dramatically.
The Dark Faerie looked at her skeptically for a minute before returning her gaze down to her nails as if to examine them even though purple gloves hid them from view. "Someone's a bit narcissistic."
"I'm serious! I woke up and there was something... someone outside my window. A light was glowing, have you heard of anything like that? My friend, Wihlo, told me she heard of neopets disappearing during Halloween. Unexplained causes and no sign of them everywhere." Fantesha pulled her arms around herself. The Faerie seemed disinterested, her eyes still downcast.
"Meepits?" She offered.
"That makes little sense. I haven't gotten sick. Nothing is missing. I think it's something else, something perhaps even worse." Fantesha paused, then noted darkly ", I think I'm next."
The Faerie let a capricious laugh tumble from her lips. "If you have such wild and unfounded questions, I think it's best you go to the Brain Tree." With that, the faerie disappeared into a cloud of magenta smoke.
Fantesha coughed, irritated at the Faerie's apathy to her precarious situation. Still, it wasn't a bad suggestion. She could ask about the deaths surrounding Halloween, and now with morning upon Neopia, The Haunted Woods would not be quite as eerie. Another Faerie floated in the room.
"What are you doing here? Have you a quest?"
"No, I'm leaving." She turned, and the doors flew open in response to her movements.
Faerieland was now buzzing with noises: the clicking of the Wheel of Excitement, the chatter of Faeries with the morning gossip, and she could even hear the beginning of the Poogle Races. As she headed out, the noise died and fear rose as she approached the Haunted Woods. Even if she was to be the next victim of whatever it was, Meepits, The Pant Devil, Morguss, what could she do? Something brushed against her shoulder, and she instinctively whipped around, breath squeezing out her lungs.
"Whoa, on edge much?" The Plushie Xweetok, Cehani, laughed, giving Fantesha a quick hug.
"How are you? I haven't seen you in a month, which is funny because last time I checked I live with you." Her button eyes sparkled in the sunlight.
"Yes, I've been busy designing costumes and such. Halloween and all." Fantesha continued walking and Cehani matched her strides.
"What are you going to be?" Cehani pried.
"What? Oh... yeah..." She paused for a second still distracted by her thoughts. "Dressing up as a faerie. Don't have the guts yet to buy the Paint Brush. You?"
"Tucking the crown away and bringing out a witch hat I bought yesterday. Should be pretty fun. Everyone RSVPd to the invitations I sent out for the celebration. Excited?" It wasn't much of a surprise as it was known as the event of the year, and all their friends were excited for it. Free food and music! But the most exciting part was each year their owner surprised them with something different. Last year it was spooky wigs and fireworks.
"Of course, I wonder what our owner is going to surprise us with this year..." Fantesha's curiosity, however, quickly evaporated as thoughts turned back to the threat. She stopped and looked towards Cehani. "I did have a question for you: have you seen any weird light or heard any weird noises at night? I know you live on the opposite end of the house, but I was wondering if you've maybe heard or seen anything strange at night."
"No, what do you mean?"
"Well, I've just been hearing this scratching noise, and last night there was a weird light outside the window."
"Hm..." Cehani said as if in thought. "Odd. What do you think it is?" The two of them were now facing the Haunted Woods, and the aroma of corpses and bat kebabs hung in the air. Fog drifted low to the ground, and just above she could see the pulsing of the orange discolored brain and the glowing red eyes of the tree.
"Not sure, but I've heard of mysterious disappearances happening during Halloween." She swallowed, trying to work up her courage. She had never much liked the Haunted Woods. "I'm going to go ask the Brain Tree."
Cehani scrunched up her nose. "Really? Those quests take quite some time... that's really how you want to spend your Halloween day? Why don't you come and buy some scratchcards with me at the Deserted Fairground. The seller is kind of spooky, but hey you never know how big the prize could be." She winked playfully.
"No thanks, I have to get this done if I want to have fun tonight." She shivered thinking back to the scratching sound. "But you go ahead. Let me know if you win anything."
"I'll come find you after and help you out," she said before dashing towards the Deserted Fairgrounds without waiting for a reply.
"Alright," Fantesha called after, walking through the gates towards the tree. Spyders were crawling everywhere it seemed and dew-speckled webs hung on every tree. There was a hooting from somewhere in the trees that seemed directed aggressively towards her. She peered into the dark trees as a Korbat flew by. Trudging further she reached the tree, who at first seemed to be ignoring her with an empty gaze, but it was soon made apparent he was sleeping only with his eyes open.
"Ahem!" she began loudly.
"Urrggh," the tree let out an irritated moan without blinking.
"Excuse me!" Fantesha exclaimed in a timid voice.
"I need my question answered..." The tree groaned.
"I actually need my question answered..."
"I need my que-what?" The tree seemed to awaken a little more, it's bark growing darker and its' beading eyes focusing in on the tiny Draik.
"I was wondering..."
"Speak up!" The tree boomed darkly.
"I WAS WONDERING," she screeched and then returned to a more leveled voice, "what deaths have occurred over the past decade during Halloween."
"Er..." The tree looked confused for a moment, then the tree's face grew impassioned. "Don't you know I hoard knowledge? How valuable would it be if I gave up my knowledge to any scaly creature that stumbled across me? Everyone wants everything for free. Well, let me tell you... I pay good items for my knowledge! Good items!" The tree huffed, puffing up its bark. "You know just the other day a neopet came up and..."
Fantesha began to tune out the tree, watching it's gaping black hole of a mouth move up and down. She had been warned about nearly everything within the Haunted Forest, but never had she been told about what an annoying chatter box the tree was. Had she caught the tree on the bad day? Did it ever have good days? Poor thing. Nevertheless, she was on a schedule that she had to keep or else... well she didn't quite know. Loose her eyeballs to meepits? "Ahem!" she interrupted, trying to mask it as a cough to break the tree's train of though.
"Don't ahem me! With such a ridiculous question I will require you find out the answer to my question. Michael Gelert died a long time ago, and I need to know where, and when, for my records. You must go and find this information. Return to me within 47 minutes, and then we shall talk. "
"Seriously," she glowered at the tree. "I won't tell anyone, please just tell me!"
The tree let out another exasperated huff. "Did you not hear a word I just said? That is exactly what the last neopet said before the meepits...."
Maybe she should have listened. "Meepits?"
The tree stared blankly ahead as if looking through Fantesha. It was clear it had fallen back into slumber, fake or not. "Fine, I will go find out. Be back in an hour." She tossed a heated look towards the tree before shuffling off towards The Esophagor. It wasn't but a short walk away, about thirty cobwebs as Fantesha counted her way. She thought of her petpet Fumbler, a Dragoyle, who was probably curled up at this moment in a heaven of plush maroon and magenta pillows preparing herself to sleep another day away. She sighed to herself, and a thump on her shoulder came along with squeal of joy. Cehani was carrying a commonplace plushie that likely was the cause of her look of victory. "Yes, I won!"
"I can see that."
"I AM HUNNNGRRYYY," the Esophagor interrupted with an irate moan.
"Yes, ok, what do you need?" Fantesha inquired.
"Chocolate Korbat Ice Lolly."
"One for me to!" sang Cehani, beaming.
"Um... not allowed, one quest at a time," answered the Esophagor. Cehani's eyes began to well up with tears of thread. His face remained cold as stone.
"You're going to make her fall apart!" Fantesha cried.
"Fine!" the Esophagor barked. "You two better be quick. Find me Eye of Mortog Soup."
Cehani returned to her grin: "Will do!" Grabbing Fantesha's hand she pulled her out and towards the Wizard's tent. "Everything will be just fine." Fantesha didn't think so.
"What are you looking for?" asked the shop wizard perkily. Fantesha's eyes flashed to the neon yellow signed that read: 'Please do not double search.'
The wizard noticed her gaze: "Yes, that's new; just trying it out." The Wizard smiled warmly.
"Um yes, looking for Chocolate Korbat Ice Lolly."
"Ah give me two seconds." The Wizard quickly typed something into a laptop that matched the color of the sign, printed out a list and handed it over quickly. "Have a good day!" The Wizard chirped looking to the door for another customer.
"Actually can I have it searched tw-" The words were just leaving her mouth, yet the Wizard's face was already clouding over with what looked like years of suppressed anger coming to terrifying life. Cehani dove in immediately:
"I have a search request as well." She quickly pulled out scrap paper writing the name of the item down and handing it over.
"Ahhh Cehani, thank you so much!"
"Knows you by name?" Fantesha mouthed in awe. Cehani ignored Fantesha, smiling politely towards the Wizard. The list was printed, then another, and then another.
"Searched it three times," the Wizard gave a sweet smile to Cehani. "Have a good day!"
Fantesha's mouth dropped, but Cehani ushered her out.
"What was that?"
"Manners, Fantesha! Manners! Now I'll see you in an hour at The Esophagor."
"Fine, don't be late!" Fantesha called, but Cehani had already disappeared. Glancing down at the list, Fantesha read off the first name that consisted of a string of numbers and the location. It wasn't far.
The shop looked like it belonged in the Haunted Woods with its musty dark wood and darkly clothed shop owner who eyed Fantesha with an ineffable expression. There were various morphing potions of all sorts lining the shelves, the most expensive of which were locked in a glass cupboard near the front. A Spyder petpet crawled by Fantesha, which made her squirm, forgetting for a second that the shop owner's eyes were still eating at her skin. The Spyder crawled up the desk and on to the Usul's shoulder. "Looking for something?" the owner asked with scathing apathy.
"Er... yes. Chocolate Korbat Ice Lolly, please."
"Ah, I see for the Esophagor quest. What is a fragile being like you doing a quest for the Esophagor?"
"Fragile? I wouldn't call me fragile," she said defensively, tempted to mention her stats, but realizing how self-important that might be. "Squeamish, maybe. If that. Anyways, I had a question for the Brain Tree."
"A question for the Brain Tree- you or the tree?" It seemed by the change in tone that she had peaked the Usul's interest.
"Me. But do you have the item?"
"Yes, I do. But what was the question?"
"I was wondering about the deaths surrounding Halloween." A silence descended between them for a minute. Neither of them blinked. Finally, the Usul caved:
"Well, a friend... not me of course," Fantesha began self-consciously. "She has been hearing things at night, a scratching sound to be more specific and a light. A weird yellowish green light with an unrecognizable figure of some sort. It has been happening for the past three nights, and it can't be a coincidence this has happened right before Halloween. Well, I-my friend, believes there is a connection between it and the disappearances that have occurred during Halloween."
The Usul nodded with a knowing look. "Yes, quite possible. Quite possible."
"W-what do you mean?" Fantesha ask fear returning to her scales in a ripple.
"Well, first, I'm guessing there is no friend. They're after you. Second, I have no idea why you are wasting your time with the tree-you really think these guys would be so reckless as to leave behind a traceable pattern? No... no."
"These guys?" she echoed without attempting to mask her fear.
The Usul puffed up with a definite haughty glow. "Yes, I can't say I know who it is exactly, but I can say I've heard the rumors."
Fantesha felt a little relief with the word 'rumors' being used, and the Usul seemed to notice, quickly adding:
"And verified, of course, as I know someone who went missing. Very strange indeed. Never heard from Annabelle again." She looked off into the distance with mild distress mixed with wonder, then quickly returned her gaze to the frightened Fantesha. "Ah let me get you that food!"
Fantesha could feel her legs quake in fear as she reached the Esophagor, the Usul's words sloshed together with the scratching sounds she had heard, creating a monster as much in her head as a very real threat. She fed The Esophagor and it groaned out the answer, "Michael Gelert diieeed in theee yeaarrr 31 BN." A hyperawareness made the sound of the second hands pound in her ears: her last hours. There was no hope. No tomorrow. Cehani pranced up, a silly grin plastered on her face bathing in naïve jubilance. She tossed the food gracefully to the Esophagor, who quickly gave her the answer, looking a little peeved at her optimism. Fantesha and Cehani headed towards the brain tree. This time Fantesha didn't bother counting the webs as they walked.
"What an invigorating walk! You know, I love running errands. Who knew? I got to start up at the Faerieland Employment Agency again. Wow!!" She grinned with satisfaction. Cehani looked over for a reaction.
"Wow," Fantesha noted blankly. The tree was now glowering down upon them.
"Michael Gelert died in 31 BN in Faerieland."
"Ah ok, mind jotting that down for me?" it asked, or rather demanded.
Cehani acquiesced, prying out her notebook and scribbling down the information.
"For your help here is a Baby Fireball."
"No, I just need to know about the deaths on Halloween?"
"Ah, it's you again," the tree said with a strong hint of distaste. "Well, there have been deaths, but none of unknown causes. I'm sorry to say."
"Ah! Great news. Thanks, Tree!" Cehani said throwing her arm around Fantesha with a sigh of relief.
"Brain Tree... my name is Brain Tree."
Annabelle, Annabelle. The scraping sound was almost palpable, though only in Fantesha's head.
"Great weight off one's shoulders, isn't it? And just in time for the party, let's go!" She allowed Cehani to pull her towards the celebration, accepting her unknown fate.
The neohome was packed, and various neopets were stuffing their faces with huge servings of spooky food that were laid out on black and orange tables. Large stereos were blaring the Blue Kacheek Group, and the raffle for the Halloween Paint Brush was already beginning. The walk home had taken some time thanks to Cehani's multiple stops and chats, and it was already 11:50. Cehani quickly pounced upon a platter of Ghost Burgers mumbling through mouthfuls about hunger and catching up later. Fantesha had no appetite as dread had tied her stomach into a knot. Spotting Wihlo across the floor talking to another Xweetok that could be her twin, as they were both pirate and holding matching pumpkin candy bags, Fantesha walked towards her. As Fantesha got closer, she became aware that the two Xweetoks were in an in depth conversation about swords. She knew there was little use in even trying to engage Wihlo in conversation at this point. Wihlo shot a swift acknowledging to Fantesha while still speaking. Fantesha looked around the party and the happy blur of faces. "Face your fear." She mentored herself aloud. She headed to the steps and ascended towards her bedroom.
The room was dark, and she lit the few remaining white candles that stood upon her dresser beside the window surrounded by halos of wax. Wind began to whistle sharply, and the scratching noise pierced through the air almost making Fantesha burn herself with a match. The wind calmed for a minute and so did the scratching. "Fantesha," came a soft voice from behind. Fantesha looked towards the Xwee standing silhouetted in the door.
"Wihlo, I thought I wouldn't catch you."
"Ah, that conversation. She is only a beginner, but I have agreed to teach her." She smiled, satisfied with herself, then returned to look up at Fantesha. "You seemed concerned, though."
The wind blew harshly, and the scratching slid through the room punctuating their conversation with unease. "The scratching," Wihlo whispered her eyes darting about the room, and then settling on the window. She tiptoed slowly towards it like a cat on a mouse. Quickly she pulled the curtains open revealing a tree branch kissing the left side window. The wind blew and Fantesha watched in awe as the tree skidded across the glass releasing the piercing cry she had grown so afraid of.
"Just a branch?" She peered into the night, outside the right hand window where the light hand been before. She was met only by darkness.
"We'll have to get that cut," Wihlo said absentmindedly as she looked down at her gold wristwatch. "Almost midnight, we better get downstairs for the surprise."
"But what about the tales you told me?"
"The tales? Ohh... those. Haha! Those were just to scare you. Come on, we're going to miss the surprise."
The idea of leaving the shadowy room could not have been more pleasing, and Fantesha eagerly followed Wihlo, unsettled still by the unexplained light and figures. While she felt a little safer camouflaged in the crowded room, a disquieting buzz began to fill her body. What could the surprise be? It was almost midnight, almost time.
Their owner entered the room with three unmarked glass bottles, setting them on a center table. A furtive smile crossed her owners face. "Surprises are more fun when drawn out. Through a series of midnight meetings this past week, I have brought to this table a set of drinks or potions. Drink if you dare."
Midnight meetings? She looks towards her owner in confusion, which her owner interpreted as interest.
"I see we have a taker. Step on up."
"A question," said Fantesha.
"Questions later." The room was watching now, and the liquid lay before her in the cup. She felt herself begin to shake, but calmed herself slowly. Meet your fate. Breathe. She stepped towards the potentially fatal liquid and raised a hand towards it, raising the bottle up and began to chug it as the audience broke out in applause. It was tangy, a little rough, almost as if it was biting and caressing at the same time. She placed the glass down, smiling.
"Not bad!" she admitted to the onlookers, but they were all silent, looking in awe at her scales which were beginning to ripple and turn a moldy green. Her body began to twist and turn without any command of her own. Her heart began to thump so loud she could hear it in her ears. She could see the Usul from the shop now in the front of the crowd smiling deviously. Her eyes flicked to the clock: 12:01. She looked towards Cehani helplessly: "What's happening?"
Cehani clamped her open mouth shut and then after a moment in thought, mouthed: "Transmogrification." It began to click. The meetings must have been with Dr. Sloth or... someone who sold potions. She looked towards the Usul who seemed to know exactly what was going through Fantesha's head, for she simply nodded and shot a smile before disappearing into the crowd. Her owner rushed over with a mirror as the neopets went back to chatting amiably about all things Halloween and their own experiences with morphing potions. Fantesha heart calmed and skin settled. Cehani was grinning with excitement now. Fantesha took in her new look, and somehow she did not feel afraid anymore.