Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 194,803,276 Issue: 796 | 8th day of Gathering, Y19
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Master of Ceremonies: Part Two


by sin_hui_ryoma

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      Sunlight crept through the leafless trees above her and caressed her sleeping eyes. Recognizing the day’s arrival, the enchanting Acara sat up and stretched, carefully keeping her balance on the log she had slept on. The long night in the woods had heavily taxed her beauty rest, but it was an enjoyable and quaint night nonetheless. She was lucky that it hadn’t rained, or running away this time would have been dreadful.

      Remembering how important this day would be for her, she got up, re-ruffled her tired dress, and began heading toward the nearby fairground, hoping that there her life’s dream would come true.

      There was hardly any reason for her to attend the faire’s grand opening today, for such entertainment was plebeian and unappealing. On top of that, her father would be outraged to know that she was wandering carelessly amongst the public, but there was one particular event that she simply could not resist participating in—the beauty contest.

      Neopets from every discovered land would be there to crown Neopia’s finest model, and this was her big chance to prove to her father that she was destined to be deemed the most beautiful Neopet to have ever lived.

      Vira was ready for today to be the best Halloween she had ever had. She excitedly picked up the pace to her destination.

      The supposedly haunted forest around her was much more lively and welcoming than how most Neopians tended to picture it. Urchulls hurriedly darted back and forth across her path but did not seem to fear her presence. Even the unseen, scattered Moaches chirped unceasingly, cheering her on. Although the barren trees seemed lifeless and unwilling to dance in the wind, the Acara breathed in each fresh, autumn breeze as it glided past.

      Up ahead she soon spotted a clearing, home to the new fairground that her father, Mr. Claymore, had been developing with contractors over the past few years. A short line of Neopets was already gathered at the ticket booth, and others were already passing through the black, iron gate onto the grounds.

      She waited patiently in line for a ticket.

      “Sssalutationss, Miss,” crooned the ticket-booth Nimmo as he greeted her with a smile. His cheery countenance matched his whimsical top hat and bow tie.

      “Hello! Just one ticket, please.” Vira handed him the fare, noticing that it was a discounted price for early arrivals.

      “Sssplendid. Thankss for joining usss today,” he said, handing her the paper wristband in exchange. He then pointed to a large bin of candy on the counter and added, “Have some ssweetsss!” Vira declined but thanked him for his offer.

      She headed over toward the tall, front gate; just yesterday, she and the Claymore Company had performed the ribbon-cutting ceremony here prior to hosting the evening social at the mansion.

      Vira showed the stationed Grarrl guards her wristband and entered.

      The fairgrounds were busy, but patrons were sparse. Merchants and their assistants were industriously setting up displays at their booths and tents, making final preparations for the afternoon rush. Throughout the day, shops and sideshows would open up one by one, but it wouldn’t be until sundown that the main attractions would begin such as the amusement rides, the contests, and the trick-or-treating event. For now, the majority of patrons were families with young ones visiting the Petpet petting zoo.

      Vira headed toward the center of the fairground. As she walked along the pathway, cheery, colorful streamers danced above her head, and dozens of advertisements fought for her attention. Off in the distance, tall, mechanical rides jutted into the sky, but they were stationary for the time being.

      After a decent walk, she found the large tent where the beauty contest would take place and hurried inside. The catwalk silently greeted her, begging for her to participate.

      Standing next to a booth on the far side of the tent, a fashionably dressed, Yellow Eyrie was assisting two young Neopets.

      “Yes, yes, my dear,” his fruity voice cheered. “That gown is sure to be a showstopper.”

      “I know! I’m so excited, Branston,” the model replied.

      “Now put this number on it,” he said, handing her a large label, “and put it on the rack in the back with the others.”

      The two Neopets walked onstage and into the back, so Vira stepped up to the booth.

      “I will also be entering the beauty contest,” she told the Eyrie.

      His eyes darted from his clipboard to Vira’s feet and then quickly shot up to meet her eyes. “Ah, my dear Princess Ferny,” he said, noticing that she resembled his fellow Cheat! player. “You are very pretty indeed, but we’re already at maximum capacity for our show tonight.” He looked back down at his clipboard.

      After a moment, she calmly stated, “I am Miss Vira Claymore. My father must have mentioned to you that I would be participating?”

      “Claymore? Ahh…” he exclaimed. His eyes widened, and he nodded to her. “Of course, of course,” he said, smiling nervously, now recognizing her as Mr. Claymore’s daughter. “I’m so sorry. This pretty head of mine can only remember dance moves. Yes, we’d love to have you as a special guest.”

      Branston the celebrity had recently signed a contract with the Claymore Company and was given a generous sum of Neopoints in exchange for hosting the beauty contests that would take place here periodically, a surefire way to attract the masses consistently throughout the years and bolster the number of fairground patrons.

      In actuality, Mr. Claymore would never allow his daughters to enter such “ignoble contests,” but he had obviously neglected to inform Branston of this, for Vira had just so easily beguiled him into letting her participate.

      “What designer outfit will you wear for us tonight?” he asked in eager anticipation.

      Vira paused, realizing that she couldn’t return home to find a better outfit to wear and risk being spotted by her father. She looked down at her worn clothes, back up at Branston, and shrugged.

      “No, no, no,” Branston said, shaking his head. “That dress will never do. You’ve got nothing better?”

      Vira shook her head, too.

      “You’re lucky I’m prepared for emergencies. Models can be so careless with their outfits. I’ve got a couple of extra ones in the back that might suit you.”

      Vira followed Branston over the catwalk and into the dressing room area where he showed her a sleek black sheath dress perfect for the runway. It was paired with two stunning, leather strap boots.

      “They will be a very tight fit,” he warned her in an overdramatic tone, “but I’m sure you can manage. Just put them on ten minutes before you’re called. Oh, and please remember to take those flowers out of your hair, or they will clash horridly.” He held up one of Vira’s braids that she had decorated the evening before with Sponderolas.

      “You’ll be number 31,” he continued, putting a wristband onto Vira’s forearm. This wristband was plastic and labeled with her contestant number. “Last on the list, but a wonderful finale nonetheless.”

      “Thank you very much,” Vira said kindly before shaking paws with the Eyrie. He returned to the tent’s main area, but she remained behind to also label the dress and boots with her number.

      Vira spent an hour or so admiring the beauty of some of her competitors’ outfits. During this time, she also met and chatted with the models as they checked in with Branston. Some had won small beauty pageants in their own lands and a couple more were world-famous, but all of them were very friendly and even gave her encouraging compliments.

      Realizing that the show would not begin for several more hours, Vira decided to give in to her curiosity and spend the afternoon observing how the fairground was doing as a business. She left the tent and wandered around, taking special note of Neopets’ expressions as they participated in the faire’s various events.

      Crowds formed as shops and sideshows began to open, and laughter abounded as the day progressed. Eventually the afternoon masses began pouring into the fairground, excited to spend Halloween night at its grand opening.

      Disregarding the recent contentions between her and her father, Vira was happy that her father’s genius creation had such great turnout.

      As she stood watching parents and their young ones riding around one of the carousels, she remembered how much fun she and her two younger sisters had had together when they were kits. The three of them had traveled the world with their parents, enjoying the finest things Neopia had to offer. And whenever they returned home just outside the Haunted Woods, they would play games with each other in the groves, the river, and the sunlit fields, enjoying their happy lives.

      The Claymore sisters used to be inseparable… until their mother passed away. Mr. Claymore was never able to pick up the pieces again and instead channeled his remaining energy into his company. The dismayed Acara daughters were also drifting apart, heading their separate ways. Lucy was training to be a nurse, and Ylana a scholar. And now more than ever, Mr. Claymore was pressuring Vira to—

      “Is everything okay?” a stranger asked her intently. Taken by surprise, Vira turned to see a Blue Moehog standing right next to her.

      “What?” she replied, puzzled. “Yea, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

      The Moehog tilted his head. “Sorry to bother you, but you seemed kinda lonely.”

      “Oh, not at all. I’m just waiting for the beauty contest to start. That’s all.”

      Vira pulled her gaze back toward the carousel—avoiding eye contact with the stranger—but she couldn’t help but look at him out of the corner of her eye. The Moehog was a head taller than her and very fit. His dark T-shirt had a hard time hiding his muscles. It was awkward having him approach her so abruptly, but he had a friendly air about him. He seemed to be about her age.

      “Okay. If you need anything, just let me know,” he said, about to turn away.

      Vira looked back at him. “Well, I’m just killing time, really,” she mentioned, hoping to keep his attention. “How about you?”

      He shrugged. “Same. But I’m having a good time. There’s lots to do here. Do you want to do something fun while you wait?”

      Vira coolly hesitated before giving him her answer. “Sure. What do you have in mind?”

      “Um, how about eating a funnel cake to cheer you up?”

      “I’m not sad or anything, but yeah. I’d like a snack,” she said. “What’s your name?” she questioned before wandering around with this Moehog stranger.

      “My name’s Judge. How about you?”

      “Vira,” she responded sweetly, putting her paw up out of habit for a handshake.

      The pair maneuvered through the growing crowds in search of the treat. The afternoon rush was picking up, and dozens of hired entertainers were making their appearances, getting everyone excited for Halloween night. Many of them were wearing frightening costumes, and others were performing circus tricks.

      Vira and Judge were both very glad to have come to the fairground’s grand opening; the whimsical evening had provided them the fortunate opportunity to meet someone else who seemed just as charming as they were.

      But this hopeful dream was about to become a nightmare that would haunt them both forever. They and the rest of the crowds were unaware of the hooded shadow that lurked outside the fairground’s iron bars, watching.

      It stood motionless, gripping the fence from beneath the protective shade of the Haunted Woods. Its bloody jaws spread open from ear to ear, ready to sink its teeth into something much sweeter than candy…

      To be continued…

 
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