A Story of the Haunted Woods
The Storyweaver stood outside the Haunted Woods. It had been a while since the Faerie Xweetok had been there. It had not been a good experience. But somewhere in those woods was someone who needed to be told a story, and it was her duty to be the storyteller who told it.
It was a curious fact that the Haunted Woods was always dark. Even though it was morning in the Shattered Plain outside the woods, when she entered it was as dark as a moonlit night. She shivered and pulled her dress closer.
The path she took was one of the more used ones, wide enough for a cart to pass through, probably a thoroughfare to Neovia, though she didn’t know for sure. She didn’t tend to go by maps and directions, and there wasn’t anyone else on the road for her to ask. It didn’t matter where the path took her anyway; she went where the stories she told led her.
Eventually she noticed a small trail breaking off the main path. It was barely there, but she felt the pull of a story to be told. She stepped off the main path and started down the trail. This trail was unlike the straight and wide path she had been traveling on. This path was narrow and twisty as it wound its way through trees and up and down hills.
She still hadn’t met another soul in these woods, not even a Petpet. It was just her and the trees. These woods reminded her of a winter forest, dormant and lacking foliage. Except a winter forest had leaves on the ground, signifying that just the season before, the trees had been full of life and color. She wondered if these trees had ever had leaves, if there ever was a time before the Haunted Woods was haunted, when it was just woods.
That would be an interesting story, she thought. The Haunted Woods before they were haunted. She briefly thought about it, but no story came to mind. This was not the story she was meant to tell today.
As she trekked up another hill, she finally heard something. Footsteps, and coming quickly. She fluttered her wings to get out of the oncoming creature’s path. The Storyweaver might have been a Xweetok, but she was a Faerie Xweetok, and therefore blessed with wings. Before she could get more than a couple of feet off the ground however, the something came into view.
It was a small blue creature, only a foot tall. It looked fuzzy and friendly and was running as fast as its short little legs could carry it. Before the Storyweaver could wonder more about it, however, a Cybunny came chasing after it. “April!” the Cybunny yelled.
The Storyweaver could only guess that this strange creature was the Cybunny’s Petpet. As the blue Petpet ran past her, she reached down and scooped her up. The Cybunny ran up to the Xweetok and panted. “April!” she said, “You bad little monster!”
The Xweetok took in the Cybunny girl. She had blue-gray fur, blue hair cut into a bob, and looked far too young to be in the Haunted Woods by herself. But more importantly, the traveling storyteller knew this was the Neopian she was meant to tell a story to in these woods.
The Cybunny reached out for the creature. “Thanks for catching her. She got away from me, usually she’s much better behaved.”
The Faerie Xweetok gave a start, having almost forgotten she still had the squirming creature in her arms. She handed it off to the girl. “No problem. What were you guys doing out here?”
“I was training April,” said the Cybunny. “I’m Saskori, and I’m a Monster Tamer.”
Twelve seemed a bit young to be in the Monster Anything business, thought the Storyweaver, but instead she replied, “What an interesting profession that must be.”
Saskori puffed out her chest proudly. “It is! People don’t realize that monsters are just creatures like us Neopets, and that they can be reasoned with and trained.”
She held out the still wiggling Petpet. “Take April, for example. She’s my Tamed Mini-Monster. I found her and she wasn’t doing so well, but I took her in and healed her up, and look at her now!”
The Xweetok wasn’t sure how monstrous or tamed the Petpet was, but Saskori seemed proud of her. “She’s lovely.”
“Say,” said Saskori, “What are you doing out in these woods yourself? April and me don’t usually run into people out here.”
“I’m the Storyweaver,” said the Xweetok, “I’m a traveling storyteller.”
Saskori’s eyes lit up. “You’re a traveling storyteller? That’s so cool! Where have you been? I bet you’ve been all over Neopia, I bet you’ve even been to Kreludor!”
“I’ve traveled far and wide, it’s true,” replied Storyweaver. “I go where the stories take me. I haven’t been to Kreludor yet, but maybe someday.”
“Listen,” said Saskori, “I know you’re super busy being an awesome storyteller, but would you mind telling me a story?”
The Storyweaver smiled. “I’d love to tell you a story.”
“Great!” said the young Cybunny. “Let’s go to my treehouse, you can tell me there.”
The Xweetok followed Saskori off the path and deeper into the Haunted Woods. She had no sense of direction now, except to follow the young monster tamer, so she had to trust that Saskori knew where she was going.
Eventually, the Storyweaver noticed a treehouse high up in a large, gnarled tree, though there was no ladder to get up to it. She looked at the young Cybunny questioningly.
“Just you wait,” replied Saskori.
As they got closer, Storyweaver noticed that the knots and lumps on the truck of the tree almost looked like a face. And then she realized they were indeed a face, for the mouth of the tree moved and said in a loud booming voice, “Who goes there?”
“It’s me, Saskori, you big dummy,” said the girl. “And a storyteller, she’s going to tell me a story.”
They regarded the Xweetok, while the Xweetok recovered over the shock of a talking, living tree. Though she supposed she shouldn’t have been so surprised. There was the Brain Tree, and the trees that attacked Gilly as she chased Krawley, after all.
Finally, the tree spoke again. “I will allow you to enter Saskori’s domain only if you prove yourself worthy.”
“And how do I do that?” replied the Storyweaver.
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“He does this to everyone,” said Saskori. “Even me, when I first met me, he made me come up with something he doesn’t already know before he let me come inside his awesome treehouse. Took me like a week to come up with something. And he knows a lot, too, pretty much everything the Haunted Woods knows, which you’d be surprised how much a bunch of trees can learn.”
“Most don’t believe the trees listen,” the tree explained.
“Anyway, you have it pretty easy,” said Saskori. “You haven’t told me your name yet, so the trees don’t know it, so just tell him that, and you’ll be good to go.”
The Storyweaver froze. “I… I am the Storyweaver. I travel Neopia telling stories, guided by the gift bestowed upon me by the Faeries. I know exactly where and to whom a story must be told. My name isn’t important. I am a storyteller, I have no story of my own.”
Saskori frowned, but the tree seemed satisfied. “I know of these Faerie Gifts, small bits of magic natural to Faerie Neopets, related to a special talent of theirs. But I did not know your gift was that of the story, that the next story is what guides you on your travels. That will suffice.”
The tree reached out a limb that looked remarkably like an arm to the pair, but Saskori put out her hand to stop it. “What do you mean, ‘your name isn’t important?’ Everyone has a name! What am I supposed to call you?!”
The Storyweaver considered Saskori for a moment. “I have been called ‘Story’ before, if you wish to call me that.”
Saskori nodded and reached out a hand. “Hiya Story, nice to meet ya.”
Story took the hand and shook it. “The pleasure is all mine.”
“Very well,” said Saskori to the tree. “Take us up.”
The tree reached out its arm and picked up Saskori first, lifting her to a branch that twisted to provide a landing space. Holding April the Tamed Mini-Monster under one arm, she pushed open a trapdoor on the underside of the treehouse. She pushed April inside, and then pulled herself up after her.
The tree reached for Story next, but Storyweaver shook her head. “I don’t need the help, actually.” She flapped her delicate Faerie wings, flying to the treehouse. The tree laughed a booming laugh, and then moved one of its branches out of Story’s way, letting her fly straight into the treehouse.
Inside the treehouse, it was cozy enough. There were books stacked along one wall, and a pile of blankets in a corner. There was also boxed food stacked on a small shelf. Everything was lit by a single lantern hanging from the ceiling. Though she couldn’t say for sure, Story rather thought Saskori lived there, and not just used it as a clubhouse.
“Why did you even bother with the tree’s riddle if you could just fly up?” asked Saskori.
“I didn’t want to be rude,” replied Story. “Besides, he could have very likely swatted me down. There’s a lot of limbs on a tree to attack with.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Saskori. “Anyway, you ready to tell me that story?”
Story settled into a sitting position on the floor, gesturing for Saskori to do the same. Saskori sat on the pile of blankets, wrapping one around her. April trotted up to Saskori and nestled beside her.
To be continued…