The Sign of the Degenerate
The Haunted Woods have long been known for strange occurrences, spooky encounters with things completely unknown. Most of the land is still unexplored darkness, with tiny patches of light in the villages and known places, and even those still maintain an air of mystery. This is a tale set in the Haunted Woods, and one in which very strange and unknown, perhaps unknowable, things happen, but it is not about the darkness of the woods, but rather, the darkness beyond. For in a cosmic sense, are we, and Neopia, anything but a speck of light, surrounded by impenetrable darkness, filled with strange, unknown things?
Mikaerisuu, just Risu to his friends, lived in the village of Tyraka and he was bored. Tyraka was one of the villages dotting the Haunted Woods, located behind the Vengeful Tree Grove and a bit to the west of Neovia. He’d always been fascinated with the unknown, and he longed to meet real aliens. Not like Alien Aishas or Grundos, they were too familiar, too cute. What he longed for were truly alien aliens. Tentacled monstrosities unlike anything anyone in Neopia could even remotely comprehend! He’d moved to Tyraka in hopes of finding something unknown in the Haunted Woods. Instead, what he found was a tourist trap.
Ever since the whole debacle with Mr. Krawley back in Y8, not much interesting had happened in the Haunted Woods. Risu wished he had been there for that - vengeful ghosts, terrifying mutants, and misunderstood monsters! Now that would be something exciting! But after the citizens of Neovia recovered from their curse, things settled down. The Deserted Fairground wasn’t particularly deserted, and the denizens may have been spooky in appearance, but everyone knew them. Every year around the month of Collecting, hundreds of Neopets came to the Haunted Woods in hopes of getting a harmless scare. They got guided tours from so-called “mutants” and “ghosts”, usually just Neopets in paint brush colours or costumes, and wandered around the lit, known parts of the woods, saying hi to the Brain Tree, encountering a couple of disgruntled sentient tombstones, and all around, having a good time. But they weren’t scared. There wasn’t anything unknown. It was just a tradition every year, it was something they did more for the ritual of Halloween than anything truly terrifying. Risu worked in the yearly Halloween tours, “scaring” visitors with his Transparent paint coat, which nicely showed off his impressive Hissi fangs. But he wanted something more. Something truly scary. An alien invasion, perhaps. That’d be fun.
As the Woods were getting set up for the month-long tours in Y22, Risu saw a strange, glowing object fall from the sky and land in the woods behind the Fairground. This was it, he thought. Finally something interesting! I wonder what’s in there. He didn’t tell anyone about what he saw, figuring they were assuming it was a burst of stray Faerie magic or something, and decided that he’d go check it out after work. And that he did, setting out into the woods, which weren’t as teeming with life as usual. The ground was still covered in mushrooms of various sizes, assorted bones scattered for the ambience, and thorny vines, but the Petpets that usually lurked under the bushes were absent. Risu figured that the falling object must have scared them off. Even the few actual ghosts who were left stayed away. Risu shrugged and continued to approach the object, which was making itself known with a near-blinding glow in ominous red.
Once Risu got closer, he was able to get a good look at the object. It wasn’t a solid rock like he expected, but almost gelatinous in texture, and its surface was covered with wrinkles and grooves. It reminded him of a Plate of Jelly Brains, actually, and he laughed slightly at the thought of giant alien snack food. If it was a spaceship of some sort, he had no idea how its operators entered or exited, there were no doors or other openings that he could see. He tried flipping the object over to look at its underside, but it was too heavy for him to lift. Shrugging, he wasn’t quite sure what to do about the object, but figured that he’d see if he could chop off a piece of it to take to the only local person he thought would be knowledgeable about such things. Professor Eldritch was an elderly Shoyru who lived a couple houses down from Risu in Tyraka who Risu had always looked up to. Everyone assumed the old Shoyru was mad, claiming that creatures described in myth still lived, waiting to cause misfortune to the unfortunate Neopet who awakened them, but Risu admired his determination and that he was always studying ancient texts, trying to find the truth.
Risu was still carrying his tools from setting up the displays for the Halloween celebrations, and pulled out his hammer and chisel to chip a piece off of the strange object for Professor Eldritch to look at. He figured that if it was as gelatinous as it looked, it would be easy to take off a piece. But as he readied the hammer and was about to chisel off a piece of the object, something stopped him. A physically painful, sibilant tone, like a thousand Cobralls all hissing at once, rang through his head, and he fell to the ground, clutching it. During the mental cacophony, an unidentifiable symbol burned itself into his vision, appearing in the same blinding red as the object whenever he closed his eyes. Eventually, the tone stopped, and he abandoned his tools and the object, hoping to get home as fast as possible so he could write down the symbol and his experiences. The old professor was going to love this!
After he got home, even though the tone had died down to a low ringing and a quite annoying headache, Risu still saw the symbol everywhere he looked. He opened his notebook and quickly jotted down what he saw and what happened, along with a quick sketch of the symbol. The thing was hard to draw. It was encapsulated in a circle, but the symbols within seemed to shift. One second, they’d be sharp, angular forms, another, they’d be as variable and curved as the currents of water. He wrote down every variation of the symbol he saw and went over to Professor Eldritch’s lab to show him what he had found.
The professor looked at Risu’s notes, his eyes shifting to attempt to follow the drawn movement of the shapes in the symbol. He looked up from the notebook, looking directly at Risu with an expression of curiosity and concern. Risu saw the symbol dancing in his eyes, but knew it wasn’t really there. After all, it was just that he saw a bright light and it burned into his vision. That was all. After he got a good night’s sleep, he’d be all right. The professor looked at the notebook, then back at Risu, whose eyes were still fixated on the movements of the symbol he saw, and yet didn’t see.
“So, this symbol burned itself into your vision...do you still see it now?” The professor’s tone was calm, but there was a clear note of fear and concern.
“Yes. I’m actually seeing it in your eyes and the pattern on the wallpaper and the steam coming up from your stove and...let’s just keep this short and say I’m seeing it everywhere. But it’s just that I saw a bright light, right? I’ll get a good night’s sleep and be fine.”
“Possibly. Historical sightings have described a brilliant light emanating from similar objects, but observers usually didn’t continue seeing it after leaving the object. Did you disturb the object in any way?”
“Well...I tried flipping it over to see if it had a door and was an alien spaceship or something...oh, and I tried breaking off a piece so I could bring it back to your lab for further investigation.”
“You tried breaking off a piece.”
“Uh...yes. It didn’t work, though, as soon as I put a dent in the thing, I got this weird, really loud ringing in my ears, and that’s when I saw the symbol for the first time.”
“Oh no. I appreciate your commitment to science, Risu, but here’s a suggestion from an old professor: if a strange, glowing object falls from the sky, unless it stops glowing, don’t touch it.”
“Okay, yeah, I’m kinda realizing that trying to break it when I didn’t know what it was was probably a stupid idea...what is it, though? Do you know?”
“Well, I don’t know what it is for certain, but there’s a similar object described in historical accounts and I think that the answer may lie in myth. The ancients were more knowledgeable than people think, you know. They may have had arcane secrets that are long since lost to us today.”
“Yes, I know, Professor. But seriously, what was that thing?”
“All right. The texts are fragmented, but tales of a being called the Degenerate date back to the earliest Neopian writing. Supposedly, the Degenerate was one of the first beings to ever exist, and it helped create Neopia. But it committed some horrible wrong, and it was banished to another dimension. But supposedly, part of its soul is still in our dimension, and one day, it will land on Neopia, leaking out chaos and corruption and eventually leading to the end of the world.”
“Woah. That’s...scary. But what does that have to do with the weird thing that fell from the sky and the symbol?”
“Well...there have been many reports of supposed sightings of the Degenerate’s soul fragment, usually as a glowing red streak falling through the sky. These are often dismissed as mere meteors, but after seeing them, observers always, for a time, saw a symbol similar to what you described. But unlike in your case, the red streak never actually fell, and they stopped seeing the symbol after sleeping.”
“So you think that the thing that fell from the sky is some ancient being’s soul, and it’s gonna cause the end of the world. Cool, I guess. But then, what’s that symbol?”
“We don’t know the Degenerate’s true name. ‘The Degenerate’ is actually something the ancients called it in myths to avoid summoning it, as a replacement for its real name. But when its supposed real name has been recorded, it’s never been spelt with letters. It’s always been a strange, constantly shifting symbol, contained in a circle. But the texts instructed never to write that symbol. By writing the Degenerate’s true name, it supposedly gains power, and if enough people see and write that symbol, it can re-form from the fragment of its soul and destroy everything. And if that object is the Degenerate’s soul, by trying to cut off a piece of it, you broke its shell and are causing that chaos and corruption to start leaking out. Starting with you, which explains the noise you heard, your headache, and why you still see that symbol. I know it’ll be hard, but don’t keep writing that symbol. If you do, your headaches will get worse and you’ll eventually go insane. Oh, and you might cause the end of the world.”
“Okay...I’ll try not to write that symbol, then. Thanks, Professor!”
After he left the professor’s lab, Risu noticed that his headache was more intense and that he was seeing the symbol in more places. The townspeople’s mouths turned into it as they talked to him, sleeping Petpets curled up in its shape, and if he looked up, all the clouds seemed to arrange themselves to look like it. He tried to shrug it off, to get home as fast as possible and cover his eyes, staying in his room in the dark until he stopped seeing it. He didn’t want to be to blame for the end of the world, after all, and if he couldn’t see anything, he wouldn’t see the symbol, right? He ended up not getting home as fast as possible. The pain from his headache was keeping him from moving as fast as he’d have liked to. But once he got home, he closed himself in his room in the dark, covering his eyes and hoping he’d be able to sleep.
He did manage to sleep, but feverishly, his dreams were filled with images of the symbol and of a white Hissi. But the white Hissi wasn’t like any Neopet he had ever seen. Its eyes were completely black, except for red slits which glared out at him from his dreams filled with sheer rage, and its body was covered in black markings and some sort of armour made from spikes that might have been gold once, but looked to be covered in years of stains and rust. The symbol was engraved in every spike of her armour, every marking on her body, her eyes, everything. This Hissi, and the symbol, continued to torment him as he slept, and when he woke up, he saw that somehow, despite being asleep and having his eyes covered, his room was covered in images of the symbol. He’d drawn it on every page in his notebook and then ripped them out, and it was written on all of the walls, his bedposts, every surface in his room. How? How had he managed to draw while he was asleep? And if drawing the symbol gave the Degenerate power, did it count if he wasn’t conscious when he did it?
Risu’s headache was intense, and he went to the local doctor for some medicine so he’d be able to go to work that day. But as he wandered through town, he noticed that something didn’t seem quite right. There were more people arguing and fighting than usual, and the children that often played in the street were nowhere to be seen. It also seemed that everyone had decided not to clean today, trash blew across the street and the villagers’ Petpets ran wild. Before going to the doctor, Risu stopped at the professor’s lab to tell him about his dreams and how he’d somehow managed to draw the symbol while he was asleep, and to ask for an explanation of the disorder of the village this morning.
“Oh, this isn’t good. Can’t you see? Chaos and corruption are already beginning to spread, it’s affecting everyone in town. Oh, but I suppose part of this is my fault, I didn’t tell you. Since you were the first one to release the corruption from its soul, the Degenerate might be able to take total control of your body, even while you sleep! It’s not safe for you to be out here. Go back home, and tie up your arms with blankets. That way you won’t be able to cause any more destruction. Even just seeing or thinking about the symbol sends more power to the Degenerate.”
“Okay...so if I tie up my arms and cover my eyes, I won’t be able to draw or see the symbol. But what about when I need to sleep? The symbol was all I dreamt about last night. That and this weird white Hissi covered in black markings. But if just seeing the symbol gives more power to it, how do I avoid that? I see it everywhere, even in my dreams, and I’ll need to sleep eventually.”
“I’ve got some herbal medicine that’ll keep you from dreaming. Sometimes I use it when I have nightmares about things I’ve read in ancient texts, but your case is far more important. Now go home, and make sure to eat one of the leaves every night. That should keep you from dreaming. If you keep your hands tied and eyes covered, no more corruption should spread, and the town will be able to recover.”
“So that’s it? I’m just going to have my hands tied and my eyes covered my entire life? I can’t do that, I need to eat! I can’t just stay in my room in the dark all the time! Is there any way I can live my life without spreading corruption and chaos or whatever? I’ll take the stuff so I can’t dream, but I need to go to work so I can afford food.”
“Well, I suppose that since you exhausted all your drawing materials last night...if nothing else, if this truly is the Degenerate reawakening, our destruction is inevitable, all keeping you in your room would do is perhaps temporarily delay it.”
“Wait...could we reason with this Degenerate? Sure, it’s a super-powerful being, but maybe we can talk to it and I can tell it that my denting its soul was a mistake and that we really don’t want to be destroyed.”
“No. It may appear in the form of a Neopet, such as the white Hissi in your dream, but the Degenerate is not any kind of being we can reason with. It is a force of nature. It is corruption and destruction and that which is right becoming that which is horribly wrong. Can you reason with lightning, or fire, or magic itself?”
“I get the point. Oh, well. I guess if we’re all gonna be destroyed, there’s no point in me going to work, but I’m still going to the doctor to get something about my headache.”
Risu went to the doctor, who mixed some medicine for his headache, which he took along with the herbs which the professor said prevented dreaming. The ringing in his head did die down with the medicine, but he was still in enough pain that he didn’t want to go out. Rather, he lay in bed and tried to relax, reading a book about an alien sighting at Meri Acres Farm. It was hard for his eyes to focus, with every letter of every word turning into the symbol, but he tried to ignore it and focus on something else, anything else. Once the sky grew dark, he tried to fall asleep, hoping that he wouldn’t dream, wouldn’t see the symbol, and for once in the days since his encounter with the strange object, would have a vision of peaceful nothing. He couldn’t sleep. Instead, he just stared blankly into the darkness, not closing his eyes because he knew that the symbol would appear as soon as he did. He couldn’t turn on a light because then the symbol would be there, visible everywhere he had carved it and in the light itself. So he sat on his bed, with nothing except the throbbing in his head and the darkness, until morning. This was the case for days after. He couldn’t sleep, and he grew irritable and paranoid, fearing that everywhere he looked, the Degenerate awaited, ready to leap out and take total control of him. He just sat in his room in the dark, screaming at the symbol, which still lurked in the corners of his vision in the slight nuances of shadow.
As Risu lay in bed for days, or perhaps weeks, he didn’t know anymore, the town descended further into chaos and corruption. The sky grew dark even during the day, with the town being plagued with constant thunderstorms and floods. Food was scarce, and none of the villagers or their Petpets could sleep. Eventually, villagers started falling ill with a disease no one could identify. Their bodies became covered in black markings, which oozed a glowing red substance, the same intense red colour and texture as the object that fell from the sky. No one could understand the villagers who had fallen ill. They couldn’t speak, or even scream. All they could do was hiss, like massive Cobralls.
Risu appeared to catch some sort of disease as well, but with different symptoms from the one caught by the villagers. His scales lost their transparency and turned white, with the black markings appearing, but not oozing. Something black filled his eyes, and he was blind for several days before regaining his sight. At night, he tossed and turned in pain as spikes burst out of his chest, eventually forming into a natural suit of armour and two extra arms, which ended in wicked claws, clearly designed for utter destruction. His headache stopped, and the ringing in his ears stopped being a constant ringing, but rather, a low, distorted voice, saying cryptic things he couldn’t quite identify about the end of the world. Something had clearly gone horribly wrong, in a way that Risu didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, understand. He decided to go visit the professor, surveying the chaos that surrounded him. He noticed some diseased villagers, and realized that he could understand their hissing, which had formed into a chant, spoken by every voice from the smallest child to the village elders.
“The Degenerate comes. She comes. Chaos and destruction will reign. Nothing will remain. The Degenerate comes.”
The professor seemed to be one of the only villagers who hadn’t gotten the disease. Risu approached his house, and the professor came out, but didn’t greet him.
“No! No! Stay back! We did not ask for your destruction! Return to your dimension! I cast you back to the chaos from whence you came!”
Risu wanted to reassure the professor, to say “Don’t worry, it’s just me.” But he couldn’t. Instead, he opened his mouth, and a low voice that was not his came out of it.
“I have come for the final wrath to be released upon your souls. Your dimension was once my greatest triumph, but it has now become my greatest nemesis. Pheriana will pay for what she has done to me, and when I destroy all her puny creations, she will be forced to surrender. Behold the true ruler of your dimension!”
Risu did not understand what had just happened, and didn’t understand what was occurring now. He, or something other than him in his body, raised one of the arms made entirely of spikes, and a burst of red light came out. It appeared to act like a rapidly acting explosive, destroying everything around him. The houses, the professor’s lab, everything. All that remained of the professor’s lab was rubble and a scrap of paper. Risu, or whoever he was now, picked it up and read it. It appeared to be a fragment from one of the professor’s books of myths.
“When the Degenerate’s soul descends upon Neopia and the End of All occurs, her spirit will enter a Neopet, and it will consume them, and he who attempts to limit her wrath, to fight her, to delay, will become her avatar upon Neopia, and their spirit will be destroyed, and she will be all that remains. The Degenerate comes. She comes. Chaos and destruction will reign. Nothing will remain. The Degenerate comes.”
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