Last week the story closed with our protagonist Neina being stuck in the gothic/paranormal land Mors World and she was due to face a set of challenges to prove herself worthy enough to go back to her world and continue with her life. Her first challenge was to answer a question accurately or risk her soul to eternal damnation!
Let’s pick up the threads from there. Fasten your seat belts. We continue the exciting ride through Neina’s world!
Chapter 6 written by Samvrutha Krishnakumar, Year 9, of Horizon International School starts out where we signed off last time - in Gargul’s Tunnel of Truth. Neina is now face to face with a “Herculean creature” with “soulless holes” for eyes and whose
“whole body radiated a hostile, unsettling energy, it swivelled around him like a tornado and possessed his very being so there was nothing left other than an abyss of darkness.”
This description deepens the sense of danger that Neina is facing at the moment. This intimidating, menacing being gives Neina a detailed, multi-tiered riddle to unravel and she has all of five minutes to do it!
Now I’m not going to go into the finer details of the puzzle, because one needs to read this chapter and become an active participant in solving its riddle. All I want to give away is that this riddle has manifold references. You might even find yourself googling a word or two in your bid to solve the riddle. This chapter is a mental exercise and an exciting one at that. As a reader, I found myself meticulously, feverishly scanning the riddle over and over and again and trying to decode it. I could actually imagine myself in the tunnel with Neina and, propelled by a rush of adrenaline, desperately trying to find the answer. I highly recommend this chapter as a reader’s delight.
At the end of the chapter, Neina answers the riddle.
For Chapter 7 the baton is passed on to Afreen Thariq, Year 8, of Capital School. In the previous chapter, the closing sentence is Neina’s answer to the riddle. Although we do not see the guardian of Gargul’s Tunnel of Truth confirming or negating Neina’s response, we know that it is the right answer because she finds a release from the tunnel. The floor beneath her feet gives away and she finds herself falling and losing consciousness. With no sense of how much time has gone by, she wakes up in a “tall tower of sunshine”. This brightly lit up place is a welcome respite for Neina after being stuck in the doomed Tunnel of Truth. She wonders if “this is the rainbow of belief that comes with the storms” that her mother had told her about? But this is a short-lived respite.
Next, we see Neina coming across multicoloured bulbs- each one when touched revives a memory in her mind. She sees herself at ages three and five. While this begins with comforting childhood images for Neina, she now faces an odd-looking creature who wants to enter her soul.
She runs from this new danger. We see her entering an elevator shaft and plunging to an unknown abyss. When she wakes up, she is face to face with her mother. But when she hugs her “mother”, she realises its actually a slimy monster! We see Neina running from the unknown danger - protecting herself from an unseen adversary. Her mind is in a whirl, her heart is racing erratically, Neina finds herself going through a corridor in which one door opens after the other and yet there is no exit, no escape. She breaks down,
“Oh God, will I ever escape! I want to see my dad, mom and brother. I miss my beautiful house! Please bring me back! Please help me. Please, please, please!”
The chapter closes with Neina pulling open an enormous door.
Chapter 8 written by Madeleine Cranitch, Year 10, of Brighton College Dubai brings some much needed stillness to the story. In the past chapters, we saw Neina frantically running from one threat to another. The enormous door that Neina opened at the end of the previous chapter leads her into a quiet, familiar setting. It’s a living room with six chairs around a large center table. Right at the center of the table lay a crumpled and dry water lily. What is unsettling about this room is that it looks too normal,
“If the room had been filled with monsters, laced with traps or occupied by a minotaur, she would have been less scared. It was the normality, the familiarity that scared her...”.
Neina struggles to make sense of what lay ahead of her. She undergoes a series of emotions - from tears to laughter. As she experiences an onslaught of conflicting thoughts and emotions, she suddenly finds herself not alone in the room. The hitherto vacant chairs are now occupied by four people. Three of these have been referenced to in previous chapters - her boss Frankie and Quinn and Ryder, her brothers. We get introduced to a new character named Freya. As we read on, we come to know that Freya was Neina’s best friend in school and the two fell out over an issue many years ago.
Neina is well aware that these people in front of her were not “people” at all. These were apparitions or monsters in garb. Nonetheless, disregarding the authenticity of it all, she takes the opportunity to apologize to Freya for her behaviour many years ago. With this
“Freya’s face transformed into the stunning masterpiece that it used to be. Everything aligned, configured, returned to normality. She smiled. A subtle smile. And then she was gone, leaving not a hair to trace”.
And that is how this chapter closes.
Chapter 9 written by Menna Abdelwahab, Year 9, The English College Dubai is a journey back into the past and gives an insight into Neina’s growing up years while delving deeper into the characters of her parents, particularly her mother.
This chapter turns up as a curve-ball of sorts since it changes the initial perception of Neina’s mother. While in the previous chapters we formed a picture of an ethereal, mystical figure gracefully gliding though the room in opulent robes in this chapter we get hints that a lot of that image was carefully “made up” and actually concealed a poignant reality.
Though not explicitly stated in the chapter, there’s a foreshadowing of the fact that Neina’s mother tries to model herself as per the ideals of American media, trying to camouflage her thick accent and buys luxuries far more expensive than she could afford all in a bid to fit in- to be someone that she was not. It was a charade she puts on and it tired her mentally and emotionally,
“The mother grew weary of the way her shame weighed on her frame and made note of upholding herself in great structure, in great posture as if she were, truly, a woman of affluence”.
The chapter also hints that Neina’s mother belongs to an ethnicity she is not proud of and goes great length to hide her roots.
“As bleach burnt into her flesh, she shoved scissors deep into her scalp if any unruly curls revealed themselves”.
I believe this is something which we will see being delved into deeper in the coming chapters.
While in the previous chapters, Neina’s childhood home looked kind of a tranquil refuge which stood for everything which was happy and stable in her life, in this chapter it’s stated that “as soon as she could, Neina moved away from home” and “just like her mother, she aimed to erase a broken past.” This chapter plays out in Neina’s mind and makes us further understand the past experiences which have shaped her perceptions and her ambitions.
“To be worthy of life, Neina felt she would have to resolve her life’s agonies, troubles and conflicts. She would have to relive it all over again”. She understands that she needs to “deconstruct” and “reconstruct” her life.
Chapter 10 has been penned by Maryam Perjessy, Year 8, of Repton School Dubai. The chapter opens with Neina coming out of her reverie of her childhood and back to the present.
She’s in the same living room as we saw her in last time, and she can see the creatures which look like Frankie, Quill and Ryder seated around the large table.
While the first time she saw these forms before her, she didn’t know what to do, this time she does. She has realized that she has to face all the troubles of her life to be able to overcome them. This meant addressing all the past demons head on. And here was a chance to address the “person” who was responsible for the current professional turmoil in her life - Frankie, her supervisor at work. She decides to stand up to Frankie and address him. She goes to him and calls out his name twice. He responds by standing up and staring at her with her fixed, stony gaze. Suddenly, his eyes turn into a huge spinning vortex and Neina is sucked into it.
Once again, Neina is transported to another place. When the spinning stops, and she lands on solid ground, she finds herself in “a stone wall in a cold, dark, cavernous hall with vaulted ceilings. The hall was filled with a spine-chilling silence, the kind that makes you feel that you are being watched.”
It’s an unfathomably humongous place, dark and cold. Neina walks on until she enters a formidable looking archway which engulfs her in darkness. She keeps walking with trepidation and the realization dawns upon her that there is no going back. She can only move forward.
Just like Chapter 5 last week, Chapter 10 concludes with a breathtaking cliffhanger-
“Then, suddenly, a figure materialized in front of her... Neina gasped with sudden recognition.”
To know who Neina comes face to face, we’ll have to wait for Chapter 11 to be published.
What we can take away from this week’s developments is that if Neina endevours to lead a settled and peaceful life then she will have to resolve all the issues of her past. A perfect illustration is Neina’s encounter with Freya. While at first Freya appears as a frightening monster with distorted features, the moment Neina apologizes to her for what she did in the past, her face restores its beauty, she smiles and disappears.
Is this story actually Neina’s journey of redemption? Who does she meet in the archway which makes her gasp in recognition? What would Neina’s second task be in the Mors Land?
These are some of the questions that have no doubt been evoked in the minds of the readers. As I wind up for this week, I want to give a big shout out to all the authors, from Chapters 1 -10. What a gripping tale you’ve woven by setting an exemplar of what wonders collaboration can do! To all the authors who would take this story further - all the best! Can’t wait to read more and know more!
To read the story so far, click here!
Mishal Faraz, WSA Student Journalist and student at The Winchester School