A Storytellers' Journey Through Legends and Folklore "(Working Title)"
The Storyteller dropped a golden-bound book on a coffee table in the still extant, albeit now much more clandestine, Catacombs.
“Storyteller, darling, what have you here?” asked the gypsy sitting at the table, her eyebrow raised.
The green Eyrie cleared his throat. “Something very special, Maria.” He stared into her eyes and nodded at her – the sort of nod that conveyed this was a very important matter indeed. “We’ve been sharing stories for what – a few years now?”
The red Aisha folded her arms and gave him a bemusedly contemplative look. “Has it really been that long?”
The Storyteller shrugged. “How long ago was Storytelling Competition Week 735?” he queried.
Maria laughed. “Fair enough.” She reached out to pull closer the gilded tome; she inspected it. “What is it, oh Storyteller?”
“Something very special to me that I would like to pass onto you,” he commented with an air of pompous sageness. “As I said, we’ve been sharing stories for a while, and I have concluded that you should be the one to whom the guardianship of this book should fall.”
The gypsy frowned. “Although I understand that each book is special, what is so special about this one?” She looked up at him with curious eyes.
The Eyrie smiled, barely perceptibly. “What you write here has the power to bend reality.”
The Aisha gasped. “Wherefrom did you obtain such a thing?”
“That isn’t important – you can skim Storytelling Competition Week 400 or 429 if you want – but what is important is that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”
Maria nodded slowly, understandingly, at this apparent display of foreshadowing.
But The Storyteller smiled, proud of his protégé. “However, before I give it to you, let’s write a story together, shall we? Watch it unfold?”
The Aisha marvelled at his words. They had been sharing tales for so long, but she had never written a story WITH her idol before; she was almost shaking with nervous excitement. “Alright, oh Storyteller, let’s!” She clapped her hands.
He sat down next to her. “Pick a genre.”
“Hmm,” she thought. “How about legends and folklore?” Her eye twinkled.
The Storyteller frowned. “A touch self-serving considering the occasion, is it not?”
“Yes,” Maria opined, “but you have to admit that the collaborative nature is a noble venture, even if the purpose of our presence is contrived.”
The Eyrie shrugged. “Alright, fair enough.” He brought out his feathered pen – a gift from Alstaf himself – and scrawled, “‘A Storytellers’ Journey Through Legends and Folklore (Working Title)’” on the page; he then handed the pen to the gypsy. “Write what you feel is natural.”
She opened the book to the first blank page and thought about it for a moment. “‘It was a dark and stormy night in Neopia Central,’” she penned.
The Storyteller almost gawked. “Oh come now, Maria, that’s so pedestrian, so cliché!”
The Aisha folded her arms. “Yes, I acknowledge it’s cliché drivel, but where else can such inspiration less scene-setting constructs be used BUT in legends and folklore?” she defended.
The Storyteller had to crack a smile. “Touché,” he replied as he adjusted his beret.
“Cliché, touché, beret – this isn’t the poetry contest,” the Aisha jabbed, a playfully wicked smile on her face.
A smile that quickly disappeared when suddenly a crack of thunder could be heard from outside the Catacombs. “Goodness gracious,” she commented, “you certainly weren’t jesting about the power of this book, were you?”
He shook his head.
“‘And luckily The Storyteller of this tale – Maria – brought an umbrella big enough for two,’” Maria read as she finished writing the sentence. She opened it, and together – he holding the book and she the pen – they walked out of the Catacombs, ready for their story…
The lighting flashed around them and the rain pelted down. Maria handed the pen to The Storyteller. “‘And the Pant Devil was looking for his next victim,’” he wrote, thinking about the potential for legends within the Gallery of Evil. He handed the pen back to her as he noticed the familiar figure of the Pant Devil, holding an umbrella, far in the distance.
“‘Luckily – or unluckily – there was another supernatural figure about from Mystery Island,’” scribbled Maria, who had other plans, “’who had just escaped from the deepest and darkest depths of the Geraptiku Tomb. She was looking for revenge on the one who had magically locked her away for 1000 years’—”
At once, a giant ghost Hissi appeared in front of them. “YOU HAVE LOCKED ME AWAY FOR 1000 YEARS!” she boomed, her otherworldly hiss a ghastly scream to mortal ears.
Maria winced, distracted by the noise. “What!? No I didn’t!” she protested. But before she could argue further, the Hissi snatched away the book and pen.
In a frenzied panic, the Aisha turned to face The Storyteller. “It was SUPPOSED to have been an ancestor of Kauvara!”
A realization dawned on The Storyteller, and he gasped. “But you didn’t write that! And, the one who called a being into existence and sealed her away for 1000 years was… you, Maria, you who placed herself into the story as ‘The Storyteller Maria.’”
The Hissi hissed at them. “Indeed! I don’t have a clue how your magical devices work, Storyteller Maria,” she said, lifting the book and the pen, “But rest assured, I will not let you have these again – and once I do figure out what you did, Aisha, I will do the same, and lock YOU away FOREVER!” The Hissi hissed once more and flew away into the dark and stormy night.
The Storyteller was dumbfounded, and Maria just softly wept. “What have I done?” she wailed. “We wrote less than a page and it’s already gone awry.”
The corners of the Eyrie’s beak couldn’t help but twist into a small smile. “Does that not remind you of something? Of a… little contest, perhaps?”
The gypsy stopped sniveling and took a moment to think. “You – you’re right, Storyteller,” she commented, looking up at him. “And it always works out by the time THE END rolls around.”
He smiled at her. “Indubitably. Let’s think about the story, here, and figure out how to proceed. Our items have currently been taken by—”
“By someone other than me!” complained the Pant Devil, marking his arrival in the tale, as he dramatically discarded his umbrella to make himself seem even more devastated as rain pelted about him. He folded his arms and puffed. “What sort of fun was it to be summoned here by you guys if you weren’t going to use me to steal anything?”
The Storyteller frowned. “I don’t know about that.”
The Pant Devil nodded slowly, understandingly, at this apparent display of foreshadowing.
“And, I was planning to use you as a foil against the Hissi creature, upon her introduction,” answered the Eyrie.
The Pant Devil frowned, too. “I stole 32 Tin Foil Hats yesterday, but I wouldn’t waste one rubbing it against that dumb ghost.”
The Eyrie sighed, irritation thick in his voice. “I mean, I was hoping to use you to reveal parts of her character, and especially her backstory, and make a good legend out of who she was and why she was trapped and all that.”
“You don’t know her backstory?” asked the Pant Devil.
“Er,” said Maria, “do you? I have no idea, I literally wrote her into existence.”
The Pant Devil raised an eyebrow. “Then what do you have to worry about?”
“Excuse me?” said The Storyteller and Maria in chorus.
The Pant Devil put on his reading glasses. “If you just wrote her into existence, she is a completely flat and one-dimensional character.”
Maria gaped. “You… actually have a point. I said she was from Mystery Island, but with no other backstory, that is probably where she has gone to!” She was getting excited now. “And her only concern was getting revenge on me which, arguably, is a bad thing, but that’s probably all the harm she will do because that is all she was written to do!”
“Exactly!” said the Pant Devil. “You’ve given her absolutely no plot development whatsoever – sure, she’ll probably come back at the climax, but you actually have to get to Mystery Island, first.”
“Ooh,” replied the gypsy. “That’s a fair point. So fair, in fact, that why should we even raise action and go to Mystery Island, then, if all it will do is lead to the conflict?”
“I believe you forget the contrived nature of this tale – you said it yourself, after all.” It was finally time for The Storyteller to raise his eyebrow; he turned toward the Gallery of Evil One. “How do you know so much about storytelling, anyway?”
The Pant Devil glared at him. “I’ve stolen and read a fair share of books in my time,” he elaborated with a hand on his chest.
“Then why did you pretend not to know what a foil character was?” grilled the Eyrie.
Maria smiled. “Every story needs some comic relief, even if random and poorly timed.”
“Oftentimes those are the funniest,” added the Pant Devil, and he and the gypsy shared a laugh.
The Storyteller was unamused, but realizing the gravity of the story, interjected, “Pant Devil, will you help us get this book back?”
He folded his arms. “And why should I help you?”
“Because you should be good at stealing the book back, when it comes to that,” Maria replied. “And, removing you at this point wouldn’t do the plot any favors.”
“Pshaw,” said the Pant Devil as he waved his hand dismissively. “There are many poorly written stories. Why shouldn’t this end up like one of those?”
“Fine,” added The Storyteller, “I will let you steal any other book from my collection—” though the Pant Devil still did not look eager, “—and,” he finished with a sigh, “I’ll grant you any one rare stamp, or something.”
At this the Gallery of Evil One grinned and took the Eyrie’s hand for a shake. “You’ve got a deal.”
Maria clapped her hands. “Excellent!”
“But, how will we get to Mystery Island?” asked the Pant Devil.
“Through montage or a cutscene?” asked the gypsy.
“No,” said The Storyteller with a sigh. “We cannot cut a story short – unfortunately we’ll have to undergo some sense plot development.”
“That’s fair,” Maria agreed, a twinkle returning to her eye. “How about we start by cutting across Kiko Lake?”
“Why Kiko Lake?” asked the Pant Devil.
“I have an inclination that that is where the story is headed,” the Aisha answered matter-of-factly. “That, and Kiko Lake is the closest location from Neopia Central – it’ll be the least travel time to where it is no longer dark and stormy.”
“Agreed,” agreed The Storyteller. “Let’s go to Kiko Lake.”
The trio walked toward Kiko Lake; as soon as they were outside the city limits of Neopia Central, the dark and stormy night became a dusky, drizzly eve.
“Well this is much nicer,” said the Pant Devil.
“Connotation is everything,” remarked The Storyteller with a shrug. “The rain will probably be completely gone once we reach Kiko Lake.”
The three nodded to each other, and after what seemed like a short trek – so short it could be read in a sentence – they looked, gazing out o’er the calm ripples of the caldera. The moon shone about them and was reflected in the water.
“Well this is pretty,” admitted the Gallery of Evil One.
“Ah yes,” said Maria with a wistful sigh. “It reminds me of all the times at the gypsy camp, where we’d sit ‘round the campfire and tell stories about Gilly or Bart, or the legend of the Beast Behind the Tree…”
The Storyteller nodded slowly, understandingly, at this apparent display of foreshadowing. “What is the legend of—”
His words were cut short by a giant creature raising out of the lake. “—of the Kiko Lake Monster?”
The three widened their eyes as they turned to face the humongous coral- and seaweed-covered Kiko in front of them.
The Storyteller cleared his throat and shouted up at the Kiko, “Er, not quite. I was actually going to say the Beast Behind the Tree.”
“Pshaw,” said the Kiko Lake Monster as they waved their hand dismissively, hitting the water with a huge splash and causing a lot of spray. “I can take you across the lake to him, easily – but rest assured, I’m a much more interesting legend than he. The legend of the Kiko Lake Monster!” The Kiko Lake Monster fist pumped in the air before holding out their hand, and the storytellers and the Pant Devil climbed aboard, before the Monster placed the three on their back.
“Well, we’re Storytellers, story appreciators, and general art and fancy thing enthusiasts,” chimed Maria. “How about you tell us your story?” she finished, cantabile.
“Gladly!” roared the Kiko. “I am a legend as old as the volcano that created the caldera itself – the—”
“Yes, it’s well established that you’re the Kiko Lake Monster,” interrupted The Storyteller.
“Fair enough,” replied the Kiko Lake Monster. “Yes, well, legend – my legend – has it that there was a Kiko who was around the volcano when finally it spewed its last, and collapsed.”
“And that Kiko was you, I’m guessing?” asked the Pant Devil, less than curiously.
“Indeed it was!” they exclaimed with a booming, shaking laugh, causing the three to have to really grip onto the mud and seaweed covering the Monster’s back to stay steady. “You see, that volcano erupted fiercely on its dying breath, sending hot smoke and ash everywhere! Some say it was caused by not giving the volcano enough food. Others say it was caused by a wailing faerie. But regardless, many Kikos in the village lost their lives. The descendants of those who were somehow spared live in the lake to this day.” The Monster gave a dramatic pause. “But, the volcano also spewed some radioactive material, and this poor Kiko sap – moi – was caught in the fray. And that radioactivity made them grow big and strong!”
“This sounds implausible,” conjectured The Storyteller. “Regardless of the validity of your claim of radioactivity creating super-Neopian skill – that is a well-established albeit nonsensical story-trope – this caldera is very old, and even judging on your story this event was a long time ago – that would make you very old, impossibly old, as well.”
The Kiko narrowed their eyes. “It also gave me the ability to live to be very impossibly old.”
The three on their back nodded at this explanation.
“So why do you remain in the lake, oh Monster, instead of using your size and strength elsewhere?” inquired Maria.
“Well, this place is my home,” replied the Kiko Lake Monster. “I have come to appreciate living in its depths – far removed from society, yes – but ready to fend off future disasters for my fellow Kikos, in case of another volcanic disaster. Or any disaster, really. I camouflage myself with mud, seaweed, and coral, so as not to scare off anyone.”
“Then why did you approach us?” asked the Pant Devil. “Especially to the point where you finished the Eyrie’s sentence. You didn’t think you’d scare us?”
“Oh, er,” fumbled the Kiko Lake Monster at this poor plot point. “Every so often – especially late at night and after a dark and stormy night in Neopia Central – I hang out near the surface, ready and listening for adventures who may need help crossing the lake…?”
“Makes sense,” replied the Pant Devil with a shrug.
“Very good.” The Monster shrugged, too, as best as Kikos can do. “Well, now you know my story – perfectly coinciding with the arrival at the other side of Kiko Lake. And that’s not a poor plot point, that’s just my epic timing.” They helped the three down and placed them on the shore, and then pointed to a dense dead wood thicket up ahead. “That way is the Haunted Woods,” the giant Kiko finished. “Just walk through there, and you’ll run into the Beast Behind the Tree eventually.”
“Awesome!” said Maria, excitedly. “Thanks so much, Kiko Lake Monster!”
“Don’t mention it!” the Kiko boomed. “And here is a memento to remember me by!” They tossed Maria a piece of coral that had been covering them, and the Aisha deftly caught it.
The gypsy gaped, and her eyes widened. “Is this what I think it is?”
Maria grinned cutely. “Thanks for the Chekhov’s Gun!”
“Don’t mention it! Au revoir!” the Monster finished before submerging back into the lake.
“The moon is high overhead in the calm, blackened sky,” elucidated The Storyteller, for exposition’s sake.
“Well, what now?” asked the Pant Devil.
“Yes,” said The Storyteller, “Where is the Beast Behind the Tree?”
“Right over here,” came a squeaky dry voice from right beside them. Emerged came a figure so disfigured that it was near-impossible to tell its species.
And yet, there was a glimmer of recognition amongst the travelling party.
The Pant Devil frowned as his eyes scaled the Beast. “Wait, I remember you.”
The Eyrie folded his arms. “Of course you would,” he said matter-of-factly. “You met each other in Storytelling Competition Week 529.”
The Gallery of Evil One turned to face the Eyrie. “But wasn’t he specifically behind the Brain Tree before? What’s he doing out here?”
“Sometimes I like to mix up the tree I’m behind,” the Beast rasped. “I am still protected by the Brain Tree though, wherever I wander within reason.”
“Wonderful, Olver,” said Maria as she danced up to him. “So, how are you doing?”
“You know him, too?” inquired The Storyteller as he turned to face his protégé.
The Aisha gave a brief nod and giggle. “Why of course – he was one of the original gypsies, after all, before his wicked transformation and possession.”
“Yeah,” the Beast uttered curtly. “So what do you want from me? Actually, wait, I’m receiving something from the Brain Tree – you want to get out of the Haunted Woods?”
“How did the Brain Tree know?” asked the Pant Devil with a gasp.
“He didn’t, I was making a joke. Most Neopians who enter the Haunted Woods want to leave it. Haha,” he dryly deadpanned.
The three nodded their heads slowly.
“So, seriously, where do you want to go? I can take you there. But for a price,” finished the Beast, ominously.
The Storyteller sighed at the thought of having to write another rare stamp into the story’s falling action. “What do you want?”
“To tell MY legend,” said the Beast.
“Ooh ooh can I help?” asked Maria sweetly. “It is one I love to tell ‘round the campfire back at the camp – even though Rene tells it better.” She shrugged.
“Sure. Well, like most stories from us gypsies, it was a dark and stormy night,” started the Beast, prompting the Eyrie to realize where Maria got that from. “Back when the Woods was much less populated, and much less haunted.” He twisted a corner and the others followed.
“Yes,” continued Maria, “and it was at this time that the first gypsies moved in – good ole Olver here was one of ‘em – and made a camp.”
“Yes,” continued the Beast, “and it was also about this time that the Brain Tree sprung into existence, thirsting for knowledge. And I found it, nurtured it, and found answers to the questions it was dying to know the answers to.”
“Yes,” continued Maria, “but Ilere was also about, having just moved in from Faerieland, and she was up to no good, as always.”
“Yes,” continued the Beast, “and she dropped one of her magical artifacts, a glowing red gem, and it possessed me, and caused me to turn toward evil. I have it on me at all times, and if I get rid of it, I will perish, because I have intertwined it with my life force.”
“Yes,” continued Maria, “but the Brain Tree – as a thanks to Olver’s many moons of kind and faithful dedication – keeps his evil tendencies at bay, even if that does mean he can’t travel too far away from the tree lest he destroy himself and others.”
The Beast held up the gem for all to see, and just as quickly the others looked away.
“Fun,” sarcastically said the Pant Devil. “Remind me never to steal that – er, steal that again.”
“Pshaw,” he said as he waved his hand dismissively. “You all don’t know what’s good.” The disfigured gypsy placed the gem away again.
The Storyteller smiled. “Well, that was a nice tale – unfortunately though, in spite of all its holes, I do admit I liked the Kiko Lake Monster’s better.”
The Beast scowled. “You non-gypsies don’t understand.”
Maria gave a little laugh. “Yes, that legend is quite the hoot within the story-sharing circles of my people.”
“So I’ve heard several times tonight,” replied The Storyteller. “And speaking of sharing stories, if yours is done, Beast, does this mean that we are out of the Woods?”
The Beast shrugged.
“I suppose it would mean that we are basically out of the Woods,” Maria answered the Eyrie, a teasing twinkle in her eye, “if you want to keep with the whole ‘explanations conclude just at the right time’ poor plot point.”
The Storyteller recoiled. “That’s not a poor plot point! That’s just further proof that a story should take the time it takes to tell a story – no less, and no longer.”
“While true, tying that into our travel speed and current location does not make for the most realistic plot,” the Aisha replied.
The Storyteller grumbled something about how legends were by their nature unrealistic, and that this story was, again, contrived. “Well,” he spoke, “at least it means we’re out the other side of the Haunted Woods.”
“That it would, yes,” agreed the Beast.
The four stepped out onto a hill overlooking a glade. “Just as the dew settles and pre-twilight fog rolls through the valley clearings – for exposition’s sake – there you have… Faerieland,” the Beast announced in a raspy monotone. “This is the end of the line for me – I cannot stray too far from the Brain Tree – but I hope you find what you’re looking for. Good luck, my friends… or bad luck, whatever you encounter first.”
Maria and the Pant Devil nodded slowly, understandingly, at this apparent display of foreshadowing.
The Beast returned to the thicket from whence he’d came, and The Storyteller, Maria, and the Pant Devil walked down the path leading away from the Haunted Woods. When they were a few steps from the Healing Springs, a deep, gravelly, feminine tone ominously called out to them, “Did someone say bad luck?”
Maria frowned at the yet disembodied voice. “Sorry, ma’am, but you missed your cue by two paragraphs.”
“Oops,” said the voice as a Gray Faerie dressed in a dark purple cloak stepped into view from out of the big bushes. “I am Sorriness, or Sorri for short – I learned long ago that I can’t just say, ‘I’m Sorri,’ heh. I wouldn’t have been late if I wouldn’t have gotten stuck in that quicksand back there… What bad luck.” She sighed and faced the others. “Though it does run in the family. There is quite the legendary story about that, you know.”
“And that’s great,” said the Eyrie, nodding, “but we need to get to Mystery Island – we are looking to the closest ocean port from Faerieland. Can you assist with our obtaining a means of transport?”
Sorri grinned. “Of course! I’ll help you… if—”
“If you can tell us your legend. Yes, sure thing,” said The Storyteller with a wan smile. “And I don't necessarily want you to give us a short story, but, if you can, can you keep your legend to 50 words or less?”
“Indeed,” continued Maria, “or this will have to be a 2- or 3-part series.”
The faerie gave the storytellers a sly smile. “Well, it looks like you’re making a series, then.”
To be continued…