Nightmare Masquerade: Part Two
Alas wasn’t the same after that night. She had been infused with a new vigor and a determination to get back to that room. Alas discovered that the Stone’s words did ring true, and every night that she returned to Bart’s Apple Bobbing Cart, she found herself once again embroiled in the nightmare she had always dreamed of. No longer did she mope about during the day, in fact, she often helped out at the Cart and became quite the companion to Bart. The old Gnorbu could see, though, that Alas was being eaten alive. Not literally mind you, but her heart ached to have found a place that so inspired her, but was seemingly unattainable. Each night that she fell into her dark slumber, she wandered the grand halls and chased after the sounds of delightfully evil revelry that called to her, but just as she was about to enter, she awoke to the smell of a campfire and the red and white striped canvas flapping in the breeze.
One fateful day, however, things changed for Alas. As was her nightly ritual now, she immersed her head into the familiar murky waters in search of the apple that would take her back to her obsession. What she came back with this time, though, was not one of the Haunted Woods apples she was expecting. It squealed. It flailed. It had legs.
Disgusted, Alas quickly released what she would recognize as an Apple Spyder from her mouth. Once she recovered from the surprise, Alas felt a wave of sadness at the realization that she would not be visiting the great haunted halls tonight. No matter how much Bart had warmed up to her, no one was allowed more than one go at the Apple Bobbing Cart, not even Alas.
Bart approached the pair and commented with a grin, “So you got yerself a new friend, have ye? I always said you should go out and get a petpet for company. I’m getting’ quite tired of the sight o’ ye!” This last comment was accompanied by a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Ignoring the grimace on the Aisha’s face, Bart continued, “You should call him Bob. Quite apropos I think, don’t ye? Seeing as how you bobbed him up and all?” He snickered and walked away, pleased with his cleverness.
At that moment though, the newly acquired little petpet turned to reveal a trinket which had gone unnoticed before – a Ghostly Wand of Spades! (Note: Don’t ask where he had kept it hidden, as such things are considered impolite.)
Small flames lit up Alas’ eye sockets again as something clicked inside her mind. Like finally recognizing the solution to the Mystery Picture, Alas suddenly understood all of the things she had been seeing in the corridors of her nightmares. Now it all made sense. Now she could finally join the nightmare masquerade her heart longed for. Now all she needed was… Bob.
Without delay, nor a word of explanation to the still chuckling Bart, Alas whisked Bob into her arms and made her way quickly to the entrance of the most cursed place in all Neopia – the catacombs. Only petpets could face the Grave Dangers of the catacombs and come back unscathed, but brave little Bob was prepared. With all of his eyes wide and his legs scurrying as fast as they could, the little Apple Spyder disappeared into the darkness. Alas felt certain now that her nightmares were originating from the depths of the catacombs, and if only she could get down there herself, she could finally find the glorious masquerade. Since going down herself was completely out of the question (after all, the chance of being cursed is currently at 93.7%), she hoped that somehow the little petpet would come back with an answer. It was an unfounded hope, but she clung to it with all her might.
Alas waited at the mouth of the catacombs and kept a close watch on Bob’s progress.
Nearly got eaten by a Gelatinous Non-Cube. (*gasp*)
Remaining adventuring time:
7 hours, 48 minutes, 19 seconds
Located some bacon. Mmm, catacombs bacon. (Ewww.. Don’t eat that.)
Remaining adventuring time:
6 hours, 14 minutes, 5 seconds
Observing a banjo duel with some interest. (Really Bob? Really?)
Remaining adventuring time:
5 hours, 37 minutes, 52 seconds
Chewing a slime-covered shoe left by some unfortunate adventurer. (Hmm…what size is it, I wonder.)
Remaining adventuring time:
4 hours, 2 minutes, 33 seconds
Then without warning, Bob’s status updates stopped.
Alas spent the next 4 hours, 2 minutes, and 32 seconds pacing a trench into the ground at the catacomb entrance. What could have happened? What did Bob find? Would he come back? Was he ok? (This last question came to her eventually. Don’t judge.)
Finally! Is it...? It is! Bob had returned from the depths of the catacombs, unscathed by foul curses but covered in cobwebs and slime. As Alas watched him emerge with wide, hopeful eyes, he gently shook himself off and with a proud flourish, he presented an envelope to Alas.
The envelope was exquisite black velvet and written with intricate flair across the front, in glittering silver lettering, was her name. Alas stared at it for a moment, almost as if she expected the name to fade away or change into one entirely other than her own. Regaining some composure, she opened the envelope and carefully slid out the pale parchment contained within. Unfolding it with care, so as not to miss a detail, she began to read what had been recorded upon it.
I linger in the shadows
At the midnight masquerade,
Dancing through the fallen night,
My presence unbetrayed.
I glide across the ballroom
As do waves drift through the sea,
I am masked in mystery.
I desire your presence at the Nightmare Masquerade.
You are hereby granted safe passage.
Arrive promptly at Midnight
Dress to kill.
Alas was overcome with a most wicked joy as she read and reread the invitation a dozen times. She traced a claw over the impossibly elaborate letter “R” that concluded the letter, and she wondered who this mysterious (and now quite beloved) individual was. Snapping suddenly out of her reverie, Alas was struck by a horrifying notion:
“I have nothing to wear!”
Desperation giving her wings, Alas sped to Prigpants & Swolthy, the best tailors in town. She had less than 24 hours until midnight, and she needed the perfect dress. Providing their usual level of service, which was adequate at best, Prigpants and Swolthy had Alas fitted into a stunningly flattering frock fit for the Dark Faerie herself in mere hours. They had even fitted little Bob with a teeny top hat of his own. Exhausted but quite pleased with their efforts, the two tailors were so busy congratulating each other that they barely noticed the Aisha’s departure.
Alas was a nervous, but excited, wreck for the rest of the evening. Finally, as the minutes of the last hour ticked away towards midnight, she found herself pacing near the mouth of the catacombs. As the last chime of the clock tower’s bell announced the hour, Alas collected her wits and her petpet and descended breathlessly into the darkness.
Alas was delighted to find all the same familiar sights from her dreams. She easily made her way through the great halls and rooms, past the horrors and hazards, and successfully avoided slipping on any goo. Looking eagerly into each mirror as she passed, the Aisha’s translucent skin began to flush with a pink glow of excitement. As she neared the hallway that she knew would contain the magical gateway to the masquerade, her feet barely touched the ground. Just as she was about to round the final corner, Alas was stopped in her tracks by an unknown voice addressing her with great esteem.
“Madame, you look exquisite this evening. We have greatly anticipated your arrival,” spoke the voice, which Alas now realized belonged to a very dapper looking Eyrie. He shifted the monocle he wore and gazed at her with appreciation.
“However,” he added with just the hint of a smile, “you seem to be missing one minor detail. You cannot enter the masked ball without a mask.” And with a grand gesture, he swept back a nearby curtain to reveal a wall of priceless, sparkling masquerade masks ranging from simple lace that covers only the eyes, all the way to the most elaborately jeweled covering adorned by Faerie Lenny feathers and glitter.
Alas gasped and took a step towards the wall. Never had she seen a sight like this, and she had no words to describe the feeling it gave her. Hesitantly, she reached up and selected a black jeweled mask with the edges styled into wings.
“This one,” she said as she placed it over her face and tied the silk ribbon behind her head. “I’m ready.”
With Bob perched on her shoulder, Alas followed the Eyrie around the corner and up to a long blue velvet drape hanging upon the wall where she knew the floor length mirror to be. With a deep breath and a slight nod at the Eyrie, he drew back the drape and she stepped forward through the glass.
Her senses were overwhelmed. Music, colors, dresses… and masks. The ballroom virtually froze as she stepped out onto the floor. They stared at her as intently as she stared back at them. The faces looking back were scary, grotesque, beautiful, and haunted. For the first time in a long time, Alas felt like she belonged someplace.
Then, as if from nowhere, there appeared a statuesque Draik, Stealthy in color, who walked towards her with a welcoming smile and no mask. As she approached, the mood in the room snapped back to the joyous festivities from a moment ago and the music started up even louder as laughter and dancing filled the room.
“Welcome Alas. You’re right on time,” said the Draik kindly. “My name is Rumor, and this…” she twirled and raised her arms, “… is the Nightmare Masquerade.”
“Rumor,” Alas said, her mouth agape as she thought back to the Sentient Stone whose cryptic message had started her on this journey.
“Yes Alas. I have been watching you for some time, and I have a proposition to make. Look around you. Look at this room,” she whispered as she gestured about them. Unlike the other rooms in the catacombs, this room was still in its original state of glory. Fine furnishings, lavish paintings and décor, velvet drapes, and mirrors. Alas realized now that the walls were covered with mirrors, thousands of mirrors of all different shapes, sizes, and styles.
“Each of these mirrors is a gateway into the dreams of Neopia. We are the stuff of nightmares. We are the ghouls and the haunts that visit at night and make one sigh with relief that it wasn’t real. But we are real. And we want you to join our Nightmare Masquerade. Alas, what do you say?” Rumor asked with a sparkle in her eyes.
“Finally…” Alas began with a sigh. “Finally, I’ve come home.”