Who Needs a Royal Paint Brush? III: Part Three
A pretty blue Acara with a soft, gentle expression bent
low and picked up a small red Acara from a bundle of blankets that resembled a
nest. Her eyes glassy, the red Acara gave a vague smile.
"Kaunna!" the blue Acara called quietly, gazing
fondly at the smaller Acara in her arms as she cradled her. "Kaunna -- be a
dear and get your sister another blanket, please?"
"Yes, mother," said a polite voice. A moment
later, an Acara slightly older than the smaller red one strode into the room.
It was a boarded up room with creaky wooden floors and the wind whistled, shaking
the walls. "Here..."
The older Acara handed her mother a tattered
and fraying gray blanket that had once been white. The mother wrapped it tightly
around the younger one, who blinked confusedly but nestled warmly into the blanket,
burying her face in it. The stinging cold caused Kaunna to shiver, but she shook
The blue Acara placed the younger one back into
the bundle of blankets and quietly did her best to make it as comfortable as
possible, wrapping two or three more around her. "Good night, Sylannya..." whispered
the mother, and she backed away from where Syl had closed her eyes and became
limp, breathing deeply but trembling in the cold.
Sylannya awoke with a start and sat bolt upright,
throwing the ragged blanket off of her. Breathing heavily, the red Acara shivered
as snow sprinkled down from overhead.
"Oh, Syl," said a voice, and the red Acara turned
to see her older sister. Kaunna had been bent low, picking through the scattered
contents of an upturned trash bin. She now perked up and faced her little sister,
who had twisted around to stare.
"What are --?" began Syl inquisitively.
"Just looking for more food," said Kaunna softly,
"and blankets, the Money Tree's just not providing well for us at the moment,
but later on -- go back to sleep, Syl, you should finish your nap..."
But Syl did not oblige. Sitting up straighter,
she felt her breathing begin to return to normal as she tried to calm herself,
still feeling a little morose at what she had just witnessed. "What's wrong?"
inquired Kaunna, tilting her head.
Syl shook her head. "Had a dream," she mumbled.
Kaunna nodded. Syl lay back down, staring at
the snow overhead as it fell, blinking it out of eyelashes, and glancing at
the sides of the brick walls of the alleyway. She did not close her eyes, though,
for fear that the dream would taunt her again; she did not want to think about
what it had been like to have a mother, nor did she want to relive it in her
dreams ever again and bring back the pain -- the sadness.
* * * *
Cuni jumped to her feet, her heart pounding so
loudly she was surprised Snickers and Xrai could not hear it in the kitchen.
Glancing around wildly as though hoping to see it lying on the ground, Cuni
wheeled around frantically.
The baby Uni let out a cry of surprise as she
glanced over her shoulder, jumping, startled.
"What's wrong?" asked her brother, frowning,
appearing suddenly in the kitchen doorway. The skunk Kougra took a step nearer,
advancing further on Cuni, his brow furrowed as he cocked his head.
Cuni stumbled backward, wondering anxiously if
Snickers knew. She still had no idea why she was refusing to tell her siblings,
but she felt, as the youngest of Courtney's pets, impelled to handle a situation
of this magnitude on her own for once. No more rushing to her siblings for advice,
no more allowing her owner to aid her in this dilemma...
The Uni shook out her white mane, forgetting
for a moment with whom she was speaking. She dropped her gaze to the floor,
feeling her brother watching her closely.
"What's wrong?" repeated Snickers.
"Nuffing!" exclaimed Cuni a little too quickly.
"I -- I just -- um, well, I fink I accidentwy, um, gave Couwtney a sweatshirt
dat I didn't want to get wid of just yet -- I know it goes to a good cause,
b-but -- I gave a wot of stuff and I -- er, I was thinking maybe I could catch
her befowe she gave it away," she added, inventing wildly.
Snickers surveyed her for a moment and nodded
slowly. "Yes -- well, I don't think Courtney would want you to go alone," he
said after a moment's pause. "Mind if I come too?"
"No," said Cuni hastily; they had wasted enough
time already, she'd have to think of a way of smuggling it back without him
seeing later. "I mean, sure, we gotta get goin' den!"
"Xrai!" called Snickers, cupping his paw and
glancing into the kitchen. The Halloween Shoyru poked her head out. "We're going
to try and catch Courtney -- Cuni accidently gave her a -- ah -- sweater that
she didn't want to donate."
Nodding, Xrai vanished. "Right," she called,
"see you, then."
Cuni grabbed a jacket, slipped into some boots
and wrapped a scarf around her neck. The door swung open and she trotted out
onto the wooden porch, squinting, her vision obscured by the thick snow.
"Let's go," Snickers said, his head bowed against
the wind as he took the lead.
She shivered as the bitter wind stung her face.
They continued onward, finally reaching the forest that would lead to Neopia
Central and the pair broke into a run. The snowfall wasn't as bad here; the
forest's trees were quite dense so that it protected them.
Cuni took off at a gallop ahead of Snickers,
and skidded to a halt on top of a small hill overlooking Neopia Central. It
looked much like a sort of Christmas card; as the sky was darkening slightly,
streetlights had been lit, illuminating the falling snow and the bustling crowd
as they hurried into the shops for warmth.
"Er -- shall we check at the Pound, then?" asked
Snickers. "I have a feeling they'd have already stopped at the guild -- Courtney
did tell me they would be visiting the Pound first, we'll have a decent chance
of finding them -- "
Nodding, her teeth chattering loudly, the baby
Uni wrapping her scarf more tightly around her began trudging through the snow
alongside Snickers, shooting sideways glances at him as they dodged shoppers
and weaved through the crowd. If he did know of the Royal Paint Brush with which
she was concerned for, he showed no sign of it, nor did he hint towards it.
Perhaps he knew nothing; maybe he had been so
deeply absorbed in collecting unwanted clothing, or painting on his canvas,
or reading, or whatever he had been doing -- so that he had not heard the conversation
Cuni had staged right ouside his bedroom door.
And Cuni was just beginning to feel more relaxed
when Snickers spoke again and she jumped.
"I heard you talking to someone outside of my
room," he said casually, as if this were a throwaway statement of no real importance,
"but when I went out there -- "
"I was talking to Cybana," Cuni said quickly.
"She was chewing on a game piece -- I fink it was to Alec's Kacheekers set dat
he got for Chwistmas."
"Ahh," said Snickers, and he did not say another
word about it, though the look on his face was a little too understanding. Fluttering
her petite wings nervously, Cuni traipsed onward.
After about fifteen minutes, Cuni and Snickers
found themselves outside of a large brick building. A sign above the door was
swaying dangerously, but was still readable as Cuni squinted and said aloud,
"The Neopian Pound."
"Yes," said Snickers, "let's go in, it's freezing
out here -- "
Pushing open the door, Cuni held it open for
her brother and followed him.
The were greeted by warmth as the bell above
them chimed and Cuni gave a shiver and an almost inaudible intake of breath.
She bit her lip, trying to gaze at the Techo with a dirty white coat that billowed
around his heels. There were stains here or there and he leered at her, his
expression nothing short of disdain. Behind him was a heavy-looking metal door
labeled "PETS". A faded sign in fornt of him read "DISOWN".
Cuni stepped back slightly, staring at the tiled
floor; the Pound had once been her home, until Courtney came along and adopted
her. She could very well remember the horrible loneliness and had no intention
of reliving the experience, but then again, she had to retrieve that Paint Brush.
Snickers turned away from Dr. Death rather coldly;
after what he had heard from Cuni about him, he was in no position to ask him
for help. Instead he smiled at the pink, glossy-furred Uni who grinned back
"Excuse me," he said, "but we were wondering
if a girl came in here with a jelly Blumaroo? She's our owner, you see, and
he's our brother -- "
"He is your brother, you say?" croaked
Dr. Death unexpectedly, sneering. "Sure she didn't abandon him? This is the
Pound, you know."
"Yeah well, you'd've known if she'd abandoned
him, wouldn't you?" snapped Cuni.
"Anyway," said Snickers hastily, "well, she came
in here to donate clothes and winter jackets and things -- she had bags of it,
and we were wondering -- ?"
"Oh!" chirped the Uni, and her face lit up. "Yes
-- she's here -- "
Cuni's heart soared. "Weally?" she said eagerly.
The Uni nodded. "Yes, she's right back here,
actually, but do be careful and don't get lost, now, this is the Pound,"
she said, shooting a nasty look at Dr. Death and moving toward the door behind
him. "Owners may be looking to adopt you, although you two aren't in -- cells
--" (She seemed rather reluctant to use the word) "-- some younger kids do get
a bit greedy --"
She pulled open the door; Cuni was surprised
to see that she did so easily and stood back to allow them to go through. The
baby Uni did so and entered a horribly familiar room. Cells lined every wall,
and she knew from past experiences that there were aisles upon aisles of pets.
"Well, shall we have a look?" said Snickers rather
nervously. "Erm -- it's pretty big in here -- but -- I'm sure --" Seemingly
lost in his musings, he muttered under his breath as Cuni gazed around, looking
sadly at a red Tonu who stared at her helplessly. Feeling doleful as she rightfully
should be, Cuni gave a small start when Snickers tapped her on the shoulder.
"How about I go this way, and you go that way
-- we'll find her quicker --"
Nodding, Cuni took off at a trot in the direction
that Snickers had indicated and found herself being stared at by many pets,
who shot her envious looks, some shrinking into the shadows in hoplessness.
Trying to muster up a benign smile, Cuni glanced
down every aisle as she went by with no sight of Courtney or Alec, but it was
quite difficult to bring it off as she was feeling more and more miserable as
she gazed into each sunken face.
A rather small green Wocky was huddled in the
corner, tears splattering down her face. Feeling a swelling mixture of pity
and sadness, Cuni froze, cocking her head; the Wocky had obviously just been
abandoned, and the baby Uni felt it her duty to do something. Moving forward,
she sank to her knees and said softly, "Hewwo."
The Wocky gave a start and looked up at once;
tears were streaming down her face, mixing with her mint-green fur as she tried
to back into the cement wall behind her. "H-hi," she stuttered almost inaudibly.
The Wocky gave a sniff, evidently trying to pull
herself together. "I'm -- I'm -- " But she was apparently unable to say a name,
for she burst into tears and hid her face, hugging her knees.
"Don't cwy!" said Cuni frantically, feeling her
heart break in two. "Pwease?"
The Wocky's shoulder shook with renewed sobs.
"I -- I -- I'll never get adopted!" she wailed, her voice muffled as she was
doing her best to look small and insignificant, a feat that was easily brought
off given her size. "Wh-why was I -- I -- I abandoned, I -- I didn't do anything
wrong, it's not my fault my st-stats aren't -- aren't -- " She swallowed and
dissolved into tears once again.
"Pwease!" whispered Cuni urgently. "I -- I know
what it's wike, I wived here for a wong time too!"
At this, the Wocky looked up impertinently. "Y-you?"
she said in a small voice. "B-but you're painted!"
"I wasn't always," Cuni said, relieved that the
Wocky had at least stifled her cries. "But I had bad stats, too, and I was sick!
But den my owner came and adopted me, and she painted me baby!"
The Wocky swallowed again, gazing at Cuni in
awe. "Y-you think I'll get adopted?" she said quietly.
The Uni nodded and smiled. "Of couwse!"
The little green Wocky gave a watery grin.
Just as Cuni was savouring this moment of bonding,
she heard a yell. "OY -- GEROFFME -- CUUUUNI -- "
The Uni jumped to her feet at once, remembering
what she was supposed to be doing. "Sowwy," she said hurriedly, "gotta go --
She took off at a sprint, glancing down aisles
as her brother's shouts rang in her ears. What had happened? The only thing
Cuni could think of was somebody trying to adopt Snickers, as the pink Uni at
the front desk had warned... but she wouldn't let somebody adopt him, she knew
Unless they went straight to Dr. Death.
But, mused Cuni frantically, glancing
down another aisle full of Skeiths, dat Uni is da adoption one, not Dr. Deff,
he's da one you go to for abandoning a pet...
But she could almost see the satisfied smirk
on his face as he headed the Uni off, telling her of an injured pet somewhere
down on aisle 72 or 112 or something, and then dealing with the adoption papers
himself as she hurried off in the wrong direction...
"Snickers!" she cried as the thoughts raced into
in her mind. She flapped her small wings; she could fly... no, that might take
longer, as she wasn't a very good flier just yet.
And she found him. Down on aisle 98, she skidded
to a halt at one end of the aisle and gazed, horrorstruck, at the scene that
met her eyes.
A girl with freckles across her nose and flaming
red hair and a frilly lavender dress had grabbed ahold of him and was attempting
to drag him to the other end of the aisle. "I'm not up for adoption --" he said
frantically, pulling away.
"Oh yes you are, why were you in the cage then?"
trilled the girl, grinning and looking delighted with herself. "Someone's in
denial, I see..."
"I wasn't in the cage!" Snickers hissed. "It
was open when I came down the aisle -- I thought I should close it or something
"Denial!" declared the girl again, grabbing both
his front paws so that he lost his balance. "C'mon, I won't be a bad owner,
I'll be really good!"
"NO," said Snickers, and perhaps he, too, was
picturing what horrors could await him in a home with this frilly-dress-wearing-girl.
"I already have an owner!"
"Oh really?" said the girl, jerking him towards
the end of the aisle, now panting. His paws slid on the cement floor as he struggled
to get a grip. Cuni could tell she didn't believe him one bit. "Well then, I'm
sure she won't mind -- urgh, I don't much like this skunk colour. Ick, it stinks,
perhaps I could paint you pink instead!"
"Snickers!" cried Cuni; she had heard enough.
"Cuni!" exclaimed Snickers, and, firmly, he did
a sort of twirl so that the girl was forced to let go. He padded towards Cuni
and stood by her side as the girl put her hands on her hips; she clearly meant
"Look," she said angrily, "pets go to the Pound
when they are abandoned, I don't know if you understand this but --"
"I do," snapped Snickers heatedly, "but I wasn't
abandoned, my owner's in here somewhere!"
"That won't do," the girl said, shaking her head
and moving forward. Snickers took a step backward, almost fearfully and Cuni
gaped at the girl. "When you come to live with me you'll learn proper manners
"But he does have an ownewr!" exclaimed
Cuni with a look at Snickers. "He's my bwother --!"
"If you have an owner," the girl said with an
air of awful finalty, "then where --?"
"Right here," said a quiet voice.
Cuni and Snickers wheeled around, almost in unison.
"Couwtney!" Cuni squealed in delight.
The tall girl was half-glaring, half-surveying
the girl with flaming red hair in the opposite direction. Cuni noticed that
pets in their cells were gripping the bars, glancing from one side of the aisle
to the other, much like that of a tennis rally, as they spoke.
There was a flash of flaming red hair and a silky
lavender dress before she whipped around the corner, her expression infuriating,
and she was gone at last. With a sigh of relief, Snickers turned to Courtney.
"Thanks," he said, "where were you?"
"Just in the back," said Courtney, shrugging
and dropping a heavy-looking plastic bag on the floor that was full to bursting
with clothes. "What were you two doing here?"
"Well," Snickers said, glancing at the baby Uni,
"Cuni accidently gave you a sweater or something that she didn't want to get
rid of yet -- I don't know whether you already gave --?"
"Oh no," said Courtney, smiling and shaking her
head, "no, we didn't give anything of Cuni's here. See, three other guild members
already stopped by, so we just gave them a bag of Xrai's old things --"
"Oh!" said Cuni before she could stop herself,
her distress ceasing slightly. Her thoughts moved into overdrive as she took
her mind off of the little Wocky and of that girl with the red hair and frilly
dress as she nodded. The Royal Paint Brush was in one of these bags... they
hadn't given it away after all.... Grinning imperceptibly, she foresaw the danger
of bringing it home unnoticed and was quite glad that this was the biggest concern
she had at the moment.
"Alec," called Courtney abruptly, turning as
a jelly Blumaroo staggered into view, panting. "Here, you can put them down
for a moment -- Cuni needs to find something --"
Inclining his head, Alec dropped the numerous
bags with unnecessary force and stood scowling with his arms crossed. Cuni instantly
kneeled down and glanced at each bag, now wondering which one was in it. "Er,"
she said, catching a glimpse of Courtney, "you don't happen to know where da
bag holding da stuff dat used to be in ouwr cwoset it, do you?"
"Sure I do," Courtney said, nodding at a rather
smaller bag and prodding it with her foot. "Sorry, I guess I thought I got the
stuff you didn't need --"
Snickers frowned, eyeing Cuni meticulously. Ignoring
him, she tore open the top of the bag and felt subtly aware of how they were
all watching her; she now speculated, wondering how she would stow it in her
jacket unnoticed, but decided she could inconspicuously put it in a sweater
of hers and claim it was the one she had been looking for, bundling the Paint
Brush inside so that it was not seen.
Cuni rummaged through the contents with her hoof,
her anxiety mounting, and for once, her doubt began creeping up on her. Was
it in here?
Finally, she heard the faint crumple of the paper
bag and could not help but smile. She had a brief view of the corner of the
bag before she stuffed it noiselessly into a sweater that belonged to her, wrapping
it so that it looked like a bundle of material.
"What's that?" asked Snickers suddenly as Cuni
"My --" she began, but a glimpse of the bright
blue sweater showed her a corner of the paper bag. She shoved it hastily back
inside and said, "Just stuff I had in da pockets -- um -- my Neopoints I found
in da Gamewoom da other day --"
"No wonder you wanted the sweater back," commented
Alec with the ghost of smirk. Courtney's gaze had drifted away and was not gazing
at the ceiling, humming to herelf. Cuni became aware that several pets in cells
were watching them.
"Ready to go?" the girl said as Alec began heaving
bags onto his shoulder. "Snickers, d'ya think you could help --?"
"No problem," he said, moving forward to assist.
He took two bags and while he and Alec were sorting through what bags should
be carried by who, Cuni turned her back on them and stole a look of accomplishment.
She had retrieved the Paint Brush at last without her siblings acknowledging
it -- well, maybe Snickers had a clue. But did that really matter? He had not
yet said anything...
"Right," said Courtney brightly. "Time to go
to the Money Tree, I think?"
Cuni nodded. Now, all she had to do was find
those two red Acaras and return the Royal Paint Brush before anyone found out,
as she still had that streak of independence running though her.
What could be more simple?
To be continued...