A Story of the Haunted Woods:Part Five
You can stay up in that tree, if you like,” said Nathan. “But I have this Xweetok here, and I will take her, as recompense for your crimes.”
“Wait!” shouted Ally. “We can save your sister.”
At this, the Bori froze. “What do you know of my sister?”
“I know that she’s been trapped by your so-called master, and you only serve him to get her back,” said Alvideria.
“How do you know this?”
“It’s her, the Xweetok,” said Saskori. “She’s a powerful sorceress, she told us of your plight, and she can free your sister from Samuel’s grasp.”
“If she’s a powerful sorceress, then how did I get the jump on her?” asked Nathan.
“You, uh, took her by surprise,” said Saskori.
“No one’s perfect,” added Ally.
“Uh huh,” said Nathan, doubtfully.
“Look,” said Saskori, “you’ve been chasing after souls for how long now? And you still don’t have your sister back? This ain’t working for you, Nath. It’s time to try something different.”
“Plus,” added Ally, “do you really want to keep serving someone like Samuel? We’re willing to help you, with no strings attached. You know, besides not taking our souls.”
“You think I haven’t already thought of finding another way to get my sister back?” said Nathan. “There is no other option. Samuel, he has her hidden away, and only he can bring her back.”
“You should at least give us a chance,” said Saskori.
Nathan considered this, then nodded. “Very well, I will give you a day to get my sister back.”
“Great!” said Saskori, sounding relieved.
Nathan took a rope out of his pocket and began tying up Story.
“Hey!” said Saskori. “What are you doing?”
“What, you think me stupid?” said Nathan. “I’m holding her as collateral. If you fail, I will take her.”
“You can’t-,” started Ally, but Saskori cut her off.
“We agree to your terms. Tree, let us down.”
“The forest is always watching!” boomed the tree, but he let the pair of them down as asked.
“We’ll be back,” said Saskori. “And you better not do anything to her while we’re gone. Like the tree said, the forest is watching.”
Saskori and Alvideria started walking quickly towards the path, trying not to run. Once they were out of earshot, Ally said, “What were you thinking?! Calling Story a sorceress? Agreeing to let her be held by him?”
“I have a plan, I think.”
“You ‘think’ you have a plan?”
“No, I mean, I have a plan, for sure,” said Saskori. “Story actually gave me the idea.”
“But do you think it will work?” asked Ally.
“I sure hope so,” Saskori replied.
They made their way through the woods, this time unhampered by branches and roots.
“You know, I think the trees were trying to warn us about Nathan being there,” said Ally.
“That’s crazy,” said Saskori.
“Your house is on a talking tree. These woods are crazy,” replied Alvideria.
Saskori simply shrugged.
Finally, they made it to the gate of Samuel’s yard. Before they could enter, though, a ghost appeared out of thin air. It was Sticky, the Ghost Jubjub. “Hey, wasn’t expecting you back so soon. Listen, we’ve got a feel of the house, all sorts of stuff stashed away.”
“Any sign of the sister?” asked Saskori.
“Hard to tell, what with all the jars in there. Might be any of them.”
“Okay,” said Saskori. “Well, we’re going in.”
“You’re going in? Already? And where’s the other one, the Xweetok?”
“Listen,” said Alvideria suddenly, “Could you go back to the treehouse? The Storyweaver is there. Nathan ambushed us, and he’s holding her hostage until we produce his sister.”
“We could help free the Storyweaver,” said Sticky.
“We think we can actually manage to get the sister back,” replied Saskori, “but if it doesn’t work out, we may need your help freeing Story instead. For now, just make sure nothing happens to her.”
“Very well,” said Sticky. “Some of us will go to her, and the rest will stay here, watching after you two.”
Alvideria nodded. “Thank you.”
Sticky nodded back, then faded away.
Saskori took a deep breath, then opened the gate, entering the yard. Ally followed. The yard was darker without the lanterns, but the lights from the house still illuminated their way. They climbed onto the wide front porch, which had some furniture and mysterious boxes piled up. “I guess it wouldn’t all fit in his house,” said Ally quietly.
“Yeah,” said Saskori, then she raised a paw and knocked at the front door.
“Coming!” said a voice from within.
Alvideria exchanged a quick grimace with Saskori before an older Starry Yurble answered the door. “Yes, can I help you?”
Saskori nodded. “We were hoping you could. Help us, that is.”
“We heard you were a powerful warlock, and that you help people,” added Ally.
The Yurble opened the door wider. “Indeed I do. For a price. I’m Samuel. Please, come in, come in.”
The two of them exchanged glances before accepting the Yurble’s invitation. They went into a well-lit entranceway, with a stairway leading to a second level. The Yurble led them to an adjoining room. It was filled with more boxes and papers. The Yurble picked up a box off a couch and set it aside. “Excuse the mess. Please, sit down.”
The pair of them sat next to each other on the couch. The Yurble settled into an armchair by the fireplace. “So, tell me of your troubles.”
“There’s this Warlock, a Nimmo, and he’s trapped our friend’s soul!” blurted out Saskori.
Samuel frowned. “I don’t know of any such warlocks here.”
“He’s not of the Haunted Woods,” gently added Alvideria. “He’s from Shenkuu. He came here recently for some dark, nefarious purpose.”
“We were hoping you could give us a way to stop him and get our friend back,” said Saskori.
Samuel glanced at the mantle, where a few jars rested. “Hmm… I suppose the first step is to stop him. Then you can bring your friend, and any other souls you find, back here, for me.”
“And how do we stop him?” asked Alvideria.
The Yurble rubbed his chin. “The first step is to contain him. I have something which should do the trick, but I’ll need something in return.”
“What?” asked Saskori.
Samuel pointed at the bag Saskori wore over her shoulder. “Your satchel.”
“What? But this has all my monster taming supplies, my tools, I need this!”
“You treasure it. I treasure what others treasure. It will be safe, here with me. I promise.”
Saskori stared at Samuel, then set her jaw firm, wordlessly handing over the satchel.
“Very well,” he said, accepting the satchel and placing it atop one of his piles. He opened the drawer of an endtable and pulled out a spiky metal ball that fit in his paw. “This is a trap. It’s made of iron and imbued with runes. It should block the magic of the one it holds.”
Saskori took the metal sphere and held it in her paw. “The Nimmo is bigger than this…”
“Simply throw it at him, and it will do the rest,” said Samuel.
Saskori suddenly lobbed it at him. “You mean like this?”
Metal arms shot out of the sphere, expanding and encircling the Yurble, trapping him within a cage.
“What’s the meaning of this?!” he shouted.
“Did we say Nimmo? We meant Yurble,” said Saskori smugly.
“We know you’ve been taking Neopet’s souls and storing them in these jars,” said Alvdieria. “It’s terrible.”
“If you’re so smart, then you should also know that I don’t work alone, and my associate will be back for me any minute now,” said Samuel with a snarl.
“That’s assuming you inspire enough loyalty for them to stick around,” replied Saskori.
“Oh, just ignore him,” said Alvideria. “We’ve still got to find her, and we’ve only got so much time to do it.”
Ally reached for a jar on the mantle and tried to open it. Not succeeding, she hit the rim of it against the mantle to break the seal. “How do you manage to get these on so tight?”
But Samuel wouldn’t answer.
Ally tried opening the jar again, this time succeeding. A Ghost Xweetok drifted out of the jar. “What’s going on?”
“You’re a ghost, and we need help freeing the other ghosts from the jars. Help us find them,” replied Ally.
Saskori grabbed her satchel from where Samuel had place it, reaching into it and pulling out her knife. She grabbed another jar and tapped the handle of the knife around the rim to break the seal. She opened the jar, and a Ghost Meerca came out. “Hi, no time to explain, but you’re a ghost now.”
“O-okay?” said the Meerca.
“Sticky?” yelled Ally.
“No, I don’t feel sticky,” replied the Meerca, but the Ghost Jubjub appeared.
“Yes?” said Sticky.
“Fill in all these new ghosts on what’s going on while we open jars. This is gonna take a while, but one of these has to be Annabeth the sister.”
From inside his cage, Samuel suddenly laughed. “So that’s what you’re after? Nathanial’s sister?”
“Just ignore him,” said Alvideria again.
“We gotta keep opening jars anyway,” replied Saskori.
“Because you can open all the jars you want, but you aren’t going to find her that way. Only I know where she’s hidden.”
But the two girls ignored him and kept opening jars. More ghosts appeared, and Sticky filled them in. The ghost searched the house for jars, finding them in all sorts of nooks and crannies.
“Just how many of them are there?” wondered Ally. But none of them contained Annabeth.
“There is a spot, however,” said the Ghost Xweetok, “That I can’t get to. In the cellar.”
Saskori and Alvideria went to the cellar door and walked down the steps. Unlike the rest of the house, the cellar wasn’t well lit. It didn’t appear Samuel was trying to mask the light of souls down here. “Over here,” said the Xweetok, pointing to safe covered in runes.
Saskori tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “This has got to be it.”
Ally tried to open it next. “It’s locked.”
“It’s locked to ghosts as well, it seems,” said the Xweetok.
“I don’t know what these runes mean,” said Saskori, “but if we could just nullify them, then you could probably break in.”
“I hate to say it, but maybe we should ask Samuel,” said Alvideria.
“I’ve got nothing better,” said Saskori.
To be continued…