The rain woke them in the morning. It was Sunday, the
day before classes started and the day the rest of the students moved in. Payne
woke slowly, as the steady rattatata of the rain drummed against the window
near her head. She stifled a moan, blinking and pushing herself up to a sitting
position. The bed shuddered slightly as above her Mia awoke and pulled herself
to the edge, peering down over the edge.
“Good morning, sunshine!” Maria exclaimed loudly
from the living room of their cramped dorm.
“No sunshine today.”
“No sunshine,” she affirmed, “still raining.
No wind either. I heard from the other girls on the hall that this is really
strange. Since we’re on such a flat area we have constant wind. The upperclassmen
seem downright spooked. They say this isn’t natural.”
“So there’s no wind and it’s raining. That’s
not too big of a deal.”
“Superstitious lot,” BlazeFast grumbled the
bed across from Payne, “now hush. I want to sleep longer.”
“It’s nearly ten,” Maria said reproachfully,
poking her head into the doorway.
The fake glasses she had been wearing yesterday
were back in place along with a multicolored bandanna about her ears.
“And I don’t want to budge until noon. So shuddup!”
Maria rolled her eyes at the Ixi’s temperament
and returned her attention to the window. Payne slid out of the bed, landing
softly, while Mia leapt out and landed with a heavy thud.
“Whee!” she exclaimed, staggering slightly on
her paws. “Whoo. My fur is all funky.”
And she settled herself down in front of the
mirror, frowning critically.
“I’ll find the brush in just a second,” Payne
said, rummaging through her closet, “as soon as I find something to wear.”
“Hey, we’ve got all day to ourselves,” Maria
called out from the window. “How about we head down to the student union and
buy our books? We can hit the library on the way back and see what all is there.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Payne replied, pulling
on a Twisted Roses T-shirt. “We can get wet for today. I don’t mind the rain.”
“Payne Rain Gray. Of course you don’t.”
“Painted in shades of black and gray, rainy
day, rain gray Payne,” Mia chanted.
“What was that?”
Payne sighed and located Mia’s brush, handing
it off to her sister.
“It’s something the kids at school used to taunt
“An odd taunt.”
“Well, my dad actually made it up when I was
little. I once said it at school and they latched on to it and used it to harass
me in the hallways.”
“Why were you named Payne, anyway?”
“It’s a color. Payne gray is one of the watercolors
my dad used when he’d paint. It’s close to the color of my eyes. So he named
“And the Rain part? Your middle name?”
“Passed down for generations. Twins always get
the same middle names – Rain and Mist. No one knows where the tradition came
from. Now, we going after books or not?”
Maria leapt to her feet and kicked the frame
of the bunk bed. BlazeFast muttered incoherently and rolled over, dragging the
covers over her head.
“Com’n, you lump! I don’t want to carry your
books for you!”
She didn’t reply so Maria scowled and grabbed
one hoof sticking out from under the purple comforter and pulled. The Ixi came
off the bed, complete with the covers still attached. She protested vehemently
but Maria had already won. Within a matter of minutes the four were out into
the hallway, making their way towards the stairs.
“So how did BlazeFast come to be painted mutant?”
Payne asked as they walked across campus, the sky the color of her eyes, the
rain falling in flat sheets across their rain jackets.
“It was a stroke of pure luck,” Maria said.
“Some guy in a cloak grabbed my arm as I was walking past an alley. I freaked
out and tried to hit him, but he stopped me by holding up this vial. ‘Drink
this,’ he said, and I realized what it was. I didn’t really want the potion
myself so I talked it over with BlazeFast there, who agreed that if she couldn’t
be painted Darigan or fire that mutant would do just fine.”
“What about you, Mia?” BlazeFast asked once
her friend’s story was done.
“Me? Well, I was actually faerie for quite a
while,” she said, shaking her head and spraying water off the tips of her long
ears, “but I got tired of that because the other kids at school were horrid
enough to Payne and I. The reason I’m a good fighter nowadays is because I finally
had to start training regularly to keep the bullies off the two of us. I’d fight
all comers and was usually outnumbered.”
“You’d fight more than one pet at once?” Maria
asked in a quiet voice.
“Didn’t have much of a choice. It was either
that or let them beat Payne up.”
“But you’re… I’m sorry but… you’re part of the
Gray family, right?”
“My parents didn’t believe in using their status
to get favors,” Payne said tightly, “so I was forced to fend for myself like
any other student would have to. I think they were right about that. If anything,
Mia and I are inseparable now.”
“And I can whoop up on anyone that crosses our
path!” the Gelert added gleefully, “No weapons, just teeth and paws. Be afraid
of me, foolish mortal…”
“Um, is that the union?” BlazeFast interrupted,
nodding towards the towering building of red brick and glass.
“I believe so,” Payne replied.
“Right. Well, you slowpokes, I bet you ten to
one I beat you there!”
And the Ixi burst into a run, water splashing
up from her hooves, and the two Gelerts and Moehog broke into a sprint after
The four barely had time to dry inside the union
before it was time to brave the weather again. Hoods pulled low, Mia and Blazefast
bounding out in front of them, Maria and Payne made their way to the library,
sacks of books in their hands. Neither spoke, lost in their own thoughts, Maria
on how much she had just had to spend, Payne on what tomorrow would bring. First
day of classes.
The library itself was enormous, nine stories
tall. Steps led down to the first level, where all the books were located. The
upstairs were the specialized libraries like the music library, or the math
library. There were also conference rooms and study lounges intermingled with
the books. But the bottom floor was the one the four were interested in. They
entered, reveling in the warmth and soft light. A librarian looked up from the
main desk as they entered, smiling.
“Not many people today,” she commented, “though
I’m sure that’ll change once classes start. This your first time in the Jerome
“It is,” Maria replied.
“Well, this is the floor you’ll be using the
most. It has our largest collection of research books, called the piles. They’re
arranged – “
“Wait, did you say… research books?” BlazeFast
interrupted. “What about recreation books?”
“Well, we have what people from the community
The Ixi groaned theatrically and staggered off
for the endless rows of metal shelves and must books. The three followed him
as the librarian forwent any further explanation into the library. It was obvious
they just wanted to browse.
“This is insane,” the Ixi was complaining as
they approached, “Ninety percent of these books don’t exist outside of this
library, I’m sure. The bookstore in Neopia Central certainly doesn’t carry them.”
“I think some of these might even be thesis
papers done by grad students,” Maria added, pointing a shelf of flimsy paperbound
“Do you really need this much research to graduate
from college?” Mia asked.
“Yes,” the other three answered simultaneously
and she blinked at them a couple times before wandering off on her own.
Payne also went her own way. She lost herself
in the books, smelling old paper and the pungent aroma of thousands upon thousands
of books. It wasn’t until she came across one last dark corner that she saw
another person. A hunched over blue Techo, shoving books back onto a shelf.
He was old and wore glasses, but he snapped his head up at the sound of her
“Student?” he inquired. “Ah, welcome to Jerome
then. Don’t mind me, I’m just putting these away.”
“Thank you, sir,” she murmured in response.
“So polite. That’s rare. You… sound….”
And here he glanced up from the books, shuffling
closer to look intently at her face. She forced herself to not back away from
“Ah. You’re a Gray. I’d recognize those eyes
“Grays are special around here. Knowledge runs
in their veins, ancient knowledge. You have a twin sister?”
“Yes, how’d you know…?”
“Tradition. Didn’t you know? All Rain Grays
have a twin sister. You are a Rain Gray, right?”
“That’s my name. Payne Rain Gray.”
“Good good,” the Techo muttered, “Just in time
too. Been too long since we’ve had a Gray in the university here. Jerome is
your friend, young one. Don’t ever forget that. And stick close to your sister.
There is a reason there is two of you.”
And he placed the last of the books onto the
shelf and tottered away without another word. Payne watched him go for a while,
before numbly returning her attention to the books he had left behind. One of
them was laying horizontal on the shelf, a plain brown bound book with yellowed
pages. She picked it up and cracked it open. Sharp black lines met her eyes,
then resolved themselves into letters. She held the book closer to her muzzle,
squinting at the small text. It appeared to be a history of the library. She
sighed and started to replace it, but as she did a couple pages flipped over
to reveal a black and white illustration.
“Watcha find?” Mia asked from the aisle.
“Don’t know,” she replied, studying the illustration.
A gateway, leading into darkness. A intricate
border of Neopets and faeries around the stone opening. And at the top, a banner
with something written on it. She peered closer as Mia leaned against her legs,
waiting for more information on the discovery.
“Ohmygosh,” Payne whispered, slowly sinking
to her haunches and laying the book on her lap, “look Mia…”
For the banner proclaimed: Painted in shades
of black and gray for those rainy days - Rain Gray.
To be continued...