Adventures in the Catacombs: Part One
It was a warm afternoon and the sun was beaming brightly in the sky as Ruaalia the Plushie Cybunny walked briskly towards the Haunted Woods. It wasn't her favourite place to visit, but she was on a mission: to help her friend go on the adventure of a lifetime.
Ruaalia looked down at her petpet who was bounding along beside her. They had been best friends for several years now, and there wasn't anything they wouldn't do for each other. Holly, who was a Christmas Yooyu, looked nervous but determined. Ruaalia knew that she was putting on a brave face, and decided to offer her some words of comfort.
"You know Holly, there are loads of other things we could be doing this afternoon." Ruaalia pointed off into the distance. "I've heard the Deserted Fairground is going to be open late; do you want to go knock down some Coconuts instead?"
Holly shook her head and kept walking, not missing a beat. "No way! I've heard so much about the challenge from everyone else, it's high time I gave it a go myself."
Ruaalia sighed. It was exactly the response she had been anticipating, but it didn't make her feel any better. She couldn't help but be worried for her friend, but this was her request. It was time to let her step out into the world on her own, and she would support her decision, whatever the outcome may be.
The pair walked through the gates to Neovia. In what seemed like an instant, the sun seemed to dip lower in the sky and the sounds of the woods around them became muffled. This was an eerie place, and Ruaalia shuddered involuntarily. Holly showed no signs of fear, but the Cybunny could tell her friend was terrified.
They strolled past the antique shop and the printing press, but there were no signs of life around them. In fact, they hadn't passed a single other Neopet since they had crossed into the Haunted Woods - how strange. Rugged old gravestones appeared to their left and their right, as they made their way towards a winding old staircase. The catacombs loomed in front of them.
"Erm, Ruaalia?" Holly paused at the bottom of the staircase, hovering over the step.
"Hmmm?" Ruaalia came to a halt alongside her friend. "What is it? Should we stop?"
The little Yooyu shook her head. "No, it's not that, I still think we need to keep going. But... can I ask you something?"
"Of course!" said Ruaalia, squatting down next to Holly. "Anything! You name it."
Holly glanced up at the old building above them, and then turned back to face her friend. "Will you wait for me nearby? I don't know what's coming, and I don't know how long this will take, but I'd feel a lot better knowing that you're close. That's all I want."
Ruaalia smiled. "Did you really think I could just leave you here? I'll be waiting right outside until you get back. Promise."
They climbed the remainder of the stairs together, as the sun made its final descent out of the sky. The moon had already made an appearance, and from the top of the hill, Neovia seemed to be illuminated in a ghostly glow. They had reached the entrance to the catacombs.
As they stood and took in the view in front of them, Ruaalia thought back to the event that had led them here in the first place. Several weeks earlier, she had been eating her favourite carrot muffin for breakfast, when Holly had zoomed into the kitchen and excitedly thrown a copy of the Neopian Times in front of her.
"Ruaalia! Look!" Holly flipped through a few pages, and pointed at an article. Ruaalia put her muffin down, and read the text.
"THE NEWEST EVENT SWEEPING NEOPIA: GRAVE DANGER! Are YOU brave enough to venture into the catacombs?"
The Cybunny raised her eyebrows at her happy little petpet, who was still bouncing up and down in place. "The catacombs? In the Haunted Woods? Why would anyone want to go there?"
Holly let out a squeal and pointed at the paper once again. "Keep reading, there's more!"
"EXPLORE NEOPIA'S HIDDEN UNDERGROUND MAZE! WIN GREAT PRIZES! PETPETS ONLY!"
Ruaalia put the paper down, and shook her head. "Holly, that all sounds great, but it sounds too good to be true. It's in Neovia, for one thing - and look at this fine print!"
Holly joined her at the dining table, and listened as Ruaalia read aloud.
"We take no responsibility for lost items (or petpets) whilst exploring the catacombs. Prizes are not guaranteed, nor is your safety. The current curse rate is 93.7%, give or take a few percentages. Grave Danger is a game of chance, risks not-withstanding."
Ruaalia looked at Holly, who still didn't appear to be concerned in the slightest. She actually looked more intrigued, if anything. It seemed as though the Yooyu was really keen to try her luck in the catacombs.
"Imagine all the prizes we could win, Ruaalia!" Holly said, eyes gleaming, "I know you've been wanting to add some more stamps to your collection, and I've heard there are huge piles of treasure down there just waiting to be discovered! Surely it's worth the risk? I mean, it's not as though it will actually be dangerous or anything, or they wouldn't encourage us to go. I really, really want to give it a try!"
And so, here they were today. The wooden doors of the catacombs stood in front of them, closed tightly. As the evening set in, the sounds of the nearby Fairground drifted across to them, but all was silent on the hill. Ruaalia paced back and forth, as Holly bounced towards a sign that was posted near the entrance. It was made of wood, and said simply "Enter at your own risk!"
Suddenly they heard footsteps echoing off the path behind them. Ruaalia and Holly spun around to see a Ghost Draik climbing the stairs, with a fluffy petpet at its side.
"He looks as nervous as I feel!" Ruaalia whispered to Holly. "Let's see what they're doing here!"
The Draik approached them and gave them a wave. "Oh good! I was worried it was just going to be us up here. It sure is creepy in Neovia, isn't it? I'm Darouge. This is Egads. Are you here to go exploring too?"
His petpet, Egads, hovered anxiously at his side and gave Holly a quick smile.
"I'm Ruaalia, and this is Holly. She really wants to play this Grave Danger game and go exploring. I'm just here for moral support." The Cybunny gave her friend a pat on the head, and Holly giggled.
"Egads, do you want to stick together in there? It would be nice to have a friendly face near me while we're off adventuring. What do you say?" Holly looked at the Plushie Eizzil expectantly.
Egads looked down and shuffled his paws. "Well, yeah, but I'm only really here for the..."
Suddenly, a piercing scream echoed through the catacombs. As quickly as it had started, the sound stopped abruptly. The Neopets and their would-be exploring friends all stood frozen, their eyes as wide as saucers. Did that sound come from a petpet? Or was it something else that was lurking beneath the city, waiting for them in the maze of tunnels?
As they stood huddled together in fright, they heard another sound. Footsteps once again, only this time they appeared to be coming from inside the catacombs... and they were getting closer.
"Clip, clop, scuffffffff. Clip, clop, draaaaaag. Clip, clop, sliiiiiide."
Ruaalia gulped and took a step towards the wooden doors in front of her. It was time to be brave, and to see what was heading towards them. She reached out a paw and gingerly shoved one of the doors open. It slid open smoothly, with only the smallest creak. With the door open in front of them, the footsteps grew louder.
"Hello?" Ruaalia peeked her head into the darkness, and saw a small table and chair sitting off to the left. The entry way was lit up with candles sitting in wall sconces, and the air felt warm. Leaving the others behind her at the door, the Cybunny stepped inside the doors. She continued to get her bearings and began to take in her surroundings. The walls were mostly bare, with cobwebs covering a few dusty old portraits. On the table lay a small notebook with a pencil alongside it.
As she leaned down to examine the notebook in more detail, she felt something tap her on the shoulder.
"YARRRRRRRRRRRRGH!" Ruaalia screeched, and jumped around in fright.
A Quiggle stood in front of her, dressed in old fashioned clothes and a feathered hat. He had a cranky expression on his face. In the place of one of his legs, stood a wooden peg-leg.
"That explains the strange footsteps!" Ruaalia thought to herself. Heart pounding, she held out her hand to the Quiggle and was about to introduce herself, when he began speaking instead.
"Tonight's mission starts in five minutes. Please sign your petpet in here, and be aware that we take no responsibility for lost belongings." The Quiggle gestured to the notebook and then stood off to the side, not speaking.
Ruaalia poked her head back outside into the evening air and beckoned her friends to come inside. They joined her in the hallway.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Holly? This is the time to back out!" Ruaalia said quietly to the Yooyu.
Darouge appeared to be whispering the same thing to Egads, but they couldn't hear his words clearly.
"Let's do it!" Holly said, bouncing up and down nervously. "We're already here... it's time for an adventure!"
Ruaalia quickly signed the book, and then stepped back to make room for Darouge to do the same. The Quiggle read through their entries, and then nodded his head, snapping the journal shut and shoving it into his coat pocket. He ushered the two petpets to the top of an old staircase, and then turned back to face the Cybunnny and the Draik.
"This is as far as you can go. Please come back at dawn, when you can collect your petpets."
With a final wave to her friend, Ruaalia walked back to the entrance and took a step outside, Darouge by her side. The old wooden doors slammed shut behind her, and she heard the ominous sound of a lock turning. She hoped she had done the right thing by letting Holly go on this adventure, but she couldn't shake off a feeling of worry.
"Come on Darouge, let's go get a Menacing Brew from the Fairground. We've got a bit of a wait ahead of us." She grabbed the Draik's arm and they began heading back down the granite staircase. It was a long time until the dawn...
To be continued…