Who Needs a Royal Paint Brush? III: Part Four
Syl was older. Wrapping a blanket around herself, she
shivered in the coldness and gave a shudder. "All right, Syl?" said her older
sister's voice, and Sylannya turned, revolving on the spot.
Nodding, the red Acara wrapped the blanket more
tightly around herself. "Where... Mama?" she whispered, her teeth chattering
"She's coming, she got us some soup for the Soup
Faerie," said Kaunna. "Though it may not be very warm when she gets here, Syl,
so don't count on it --"
The red Acara nodded. They were in the same boarded
up shack on the outskirts of Neopia Central; the wind whistled, bringing snow
and bitterness through the cracks in the walls and making it feel as though
the walls were swaying to and fro with the wind. It was a two-roomed shack,
although the room which Syl and Kaunna usually slept had been vacated as the
window had been shattered due to the wind. There was no furniture, except for
an overstuffed sofa where the stuffing was spilling out and a table that wobbled
Suddenly, the crooked, slanted wooden door banged
open, and for one fleeting moment the two sisters thought it was, again, due
to the roaring wind, but the next second an older, beautiful blue Acara with
rags draped over her neck like a shawl staggered in, a small cauldron-type bowl
in her hands.
"Hello, girls," she said, setting the soup down
and putting all her weight against the door to close it again. It snapped shut,
and the older Acara picked up the soup bowl and placed it on the table, which
gave a dangerous wobble as it groaned under the weight.
"Well now, we have some asparagus soup, this
should last a few weeks," she said, smiling despite the situation and coughing
slightly. Syl and Kaunna grinned too as their mother handed them each silver
spoons; their only possessions.
Dipping the spoon into the soup, Syl took a sip
and instantly felt warmth spread to the tips of her fingers, although the soup
was a bit colder than it had once been.
The mother watched them happily, beaming at her
two daughters. Once Kaunna had eaten her fill and placed the rather bent silver
spoon down with a small clatter, the blue Acara beckoned for her to follow.
Kaunna obliged. Syl watched curiously over the
large bowl, the spoon in her mouth as she savoured the soup's flavour.
"Now, Kaunna," the mother said softly, coughing
again, bending down low so that she was on her knees. "I have a story to share
Syl eagerly moved forward to join them and, her
teeth chattering, dropped to her knees, as did Kaunna. The mother glanced at
each of them with a small smile and began. "Your grandmother was homeless, living
in this very shack, but she had a rather charming friend named Leslie. Leslie
was a royal Acara who shared a story with your grandmother, telling how she
had been, admittedly, selfish and greedy. An adventure on her way to buy a new
dress changed her life and she escaped the life she had once known as a conceited
Kaunna's mouth was hanging open slightly as she
"She had dreamed that she was poor and her owner
had banished her," continued the mother. "She dreamed that she had to find Neopoints
herself, get her own food -- you know. She realized how awful it was to live
that life. So, as she was quite rich, her attitude changed when she awoke. She
was no longer greedy and conceited, but kind and -- as I said -- charming. She
met your grandmother and, after your grandmother helped her out of a tight spot,
she showered her with kindness, inviting her and her family over for dinner
and such. Nothing changed when they grew older -- I went there a few times myself."
She sighed reminiscently, gazing into space.
"And?" urged Kaunna. "What happened?"
"Oh -- well, Leslie repaid your grandmother's
kindness before leaving -- "
"Leaving?" piped up Syl. "Where?"
"I have no idea," said their mother, her face
screwed up in concentration as she struggled to remember. "But what she gave
your grandmother -- my mother -- was quite a treasure. She handed her a Royal
"Did she?" said Kaunna in awe, her eyes wide
as she gasped.
"Yes," the mother said softly. "And then she
was gone -- as I said, that part of the story is a bit of a mystery with me,
I really don't -- well, your grandmother handed it down to me and told me, 'Use
"What you have to understand is that Leslie gave
her this particular gift because your grandmother was quite the believer. Her
mother always told her that some items had little value, while others held good
fortune." She cleared her throat and gave one more cough before blinking and
"What?" said Kaunna, almost laughing. "You mean,
some items were lucky, she said?"
"Well, yes, that is what she believed. As I said,
she believed in quite extraordinary things, and one of the things she believed
in was the magic of the Royal Paint Brush. No one in our family had ever been
painted Royal before, and she was determined to have a royal Acara in the family.
I remember she told me, 'Luna, you'd do best to have yourself painted with this,
or your children, you know what it stands for, you know of its importance'."
The mother chuckled. "No matter, though; whether it was 'lucky', as she called
it, or not, it was quite important to her, but she felt she must give the Paint
Brush to a more -- to use her word -- 'deserving' pet." She smiled.
"Do you still have it, mother?" whispered Kaunna,
unable to believe what she was hearing. "Do you -- ?"
The blue Acara nodded slowly and, extending her
paws, she wrenched a loose floorboard off of the floor and plunged her paw inside.
Syl stifled her gasp as a Spyder scuttled out and scurried out of the way.
Her mother withdrew her hand, and Kaunna and
Syl drew intakes of breath. Held in her shaking paw was a Royal Paint Brush,
seeming to spread warmth through the dreadful home they lived in, brightening
the situation. "Why haven't you told us this before, mother?" demanded Kaunna,
though she tried to keep an accusatory note from her voice.
"I wanted to wait until you were older and would
understand," she said softly. There was a sudden gust of wind as its pressure
pushed against the walls.
"Mother!" said Kaunna in alarm, as the blue Acara
stood and swayed on the spot with a tiny cough behind her paw. "Are you okay?"
The blue Acara sank to her knees again, her vision
suddenly blurred; she looked as though it was costing her all effort to focus.
"I'm fine," she said weakly.
Taking the Royal Paint Brush, she pressed it
firmly into Kaunna's hands. "Use it... wisely," she said. She looked starkly
white, her blue fur growing paler.
"Mother, what's wrong?" said Kaunna, clutching
the Paint Brush in her hand. "Are you -- ?"
Syl cocked her head. "Mum?" she said quietly.
"Mother!" cried Kaunna, as the blue Acara's eyes
closed and she sat in a kneeling position, looking close to faint. "What --
"Use it wisely, Kaunna..." Her mother looked
up and smiled faintly...
Syl sat bolt upright once again, beads of sweat
formed on her forehead despite the cold weather, her eyes popping open as she
threw her ragged blanket off of her. "Syl?" asked Kaunna in alarm, still rummaging
through the garbage. She moved forward, frowning. "What's the matter?"
"Done napping," mumbled Syl, and she gave a shuddering
Kaunna's frown increased. The shrieks in Syl's
ears were drowned out by the howling wind and she sat into a more dignified
position. "Well, okay," she said, watching her sister closely. "Erm -- then
I guess we should get going or we'll be late; the Money Tree isn't far, though
Syl hardly heard her sister's words. She shook
her head from side to side and struggled not to listen to the screams still
echoing in her mind as they mixed with the roaring of the wind. "Well, we'd
best be off," said Kaunna, and she helped Syl to her feet. She looked inquiringly
at her sister.
"Are we using it wisely?" muttered Syl, startling
herself as much as Kaunna as she said her first full sentence.
At once, Kaunna knew what she had dreamed. Her
eyes wide and fearful, she nodded slowly. "I think so."
* * * *
Cuni traipsed out into the cold, clutching her
sweater and the Royal Paint Brush inside. She waited a moment and fell back
behind Snickers, Alec, and Courtney, all three of which were too concerned with
the large bags in their hands to wonder what Cuni was doing.
The baby Uni now had more pressing problems than
she had thought. How in the world would she find the two red Acaras in this?
Squinting ahead of her, she could just make out her brothers and owner in the
fierce wind as the bitter snow stung her face.
Everytime a red Neopet passed by, Cuni would
look up hopefully but would instantly get a chunk of snow in her face and was
forced to look away; and anyhow, none of them turned out to be two Acaras.
"Money Tree, up ahead!" called Courtney over
the wind, throwing her blonde hair over her shoulder to see and squinting through
the snow that was blowing in the opposite direction, as though determined to
push them back.
Cuni looked up. Their faces tinged with a dull
pink, flushed from the cold, they were all much more interested in tugging their
bags along with them without dropping it in the snow.
The baby Uni looked down at the bundle tucked
safely beneath her tiny wing and sighed. Halting in her tracks, she glanced
ahead hastily. Nobody seemed to have realized she was now five feet apart from
She bent low and examined it for a moment before
gently digging through the bundle. She gazed down at the paper bag, her thoughts
swirling just as the snow around her was as she wondered how in the world she'd
find Syl and her sister. They could be anywhere in Neopia... possibly in Mystery
Island, or the Space Station... but Cuni shook her head, reminding herself that
they had not looked wealthy enough to afford that sort of luxury.
But den, she thought, suddenly curious,
where did dey manage to get dis? She prodded the bag thoughtfully, and
decided to ask them that the moment she found them, though hoping that the question
was not too personal as she did not want to appear nosy. The paper bag crumpled
and in a split second, her face fell, for she had realized something was terribly
The bag was not bulky in spots as it should be
with the contents of a Paint Brush inside. It was not bulging at all, and, with
a momentary feeling of creeping dread, Cuni flattened the bag with her hoof,
Her eyes grew wide as she panicked, grabbing
at it with her hoof and tearing it in her haste. Crumpled bits of paper bag
fell to the snowy ground and were soon blown away; Cuni watched them go as her
eyes filled with tears. The Paint Brush was not there. A swooping sensation
took place as her heart -- and all hopes of finding the Royal Paint Brush and
returning it to its rightful owner -- plummeted, as an empty paper bag sat,
billowing in the wind but held down by her sweater, in front of her.
"Oh no," she suddenly cried out loud, forgetting
for a moment that she was kneeling in the middle of the High Street. Several
passersby stopped and stared, but Cuni merely grabbed the bag, crumpled it into
a small ball with her fist, and chucked it at the ground, hard.
Forgetting completely about her sweater, she
took off at a canter. She had no other choice now; she had to tell somebody.
The situation had gotten quite out of hand.
Catching up with them, she skidded to a halt
near the Money Tree where she nearly slipped but regained her composure almost
nstantly, her heart hammering.
"Snickers--" she started.
But Snickers was, apparently, deep in conversation
with a glowing Kougra, whom Cuni instantly recognized as her cousin Kougie.
He wore a rather long jacket and stood on two feet, nodding and speaking rather
loudly over the wind.
"Couwtney!" she inquired helplessly.
"Oh, Cuni!" she said, turning to reveal a dark-haired
boy younger than she who was holding bags similar to hers that were nearly bursting
with clothes. "This is Jake, my brother, remember?" He gave a nod and grinned,
though Cuni noticed his teeth were chattering.
Cuni nodded frantically, eyeing Courtney's brother
and fellow guild member. "Yesh, um, Couwtney?" she breathlessly, but over the
howling of the wind, Courtney did not hear her as she had turned to speak with
Jake again. Alec had joined in the conversation with Snickers and Kougie, looking
"Here, Cuni," hissed Alec, thrusting a large
plastic bag at her. "Take this over to the tree, would you?" He looked too fierce
to argue with at the moment, so Cuni nervously obeyed and caught a snippet of
their conversation as she moved forward.
"Yeah, you know where I can find one?" Kougie
was saying, frowning. "My sister broke my old one, you know, I told her not
to play with it, I mean, it's a Battledome weapon--" He pulled a face and shook
"Yes -- Xrai might let you borrow hers, she goes
to the Battledome quite often," Snickers replied, nodding and gazing beyond
his cousin at a pair of blue Elephantes who had hurried forward, snatched a
sack of his old clothes and were leaping in glee.
"Don't get your hopes up," growled Alec, who
was apparently in a very bad mood. "You'll get attacked before you can ask --
honestly, who names their Mozito?" he shot at the pair of them. Snickers
sighed exasperatedly, but Cuni did not hear the retort. Her mind had suddenly
gone into overdrive.
Of course -- she could tell Xrai... Xrai knew
all about the pair of Acaras, it wouldn't take much explaining... she would
just need to tell her of the package that arrived on the doorway, how she had,
indeed, intended to give it back, and how it had been taken... her older sister
could help her find it, Xrai was always helpful...
The baby Uni's wings fluttered excitedly as she
made to take off, but a hand flung out to stop her. "Oy! The clothes?" Alec
said grumpily, gesturing towards the bag she'd dropped.
Throwing him a dirty look, Cuni snatched up the
bag, noticed a red jacket was sticking out of the top, hastily shoved it back
in and ran to the Money Tree. Amazingly, its leaves had not fallen, though they
were slightly obscured by snow. The Money Tree smiled down at her as she placed
the bag near its trunk and swayed slightly so that the snow was brushed off
of its leaves. The Uni shook her head to rid herself of snow, and, with a last
glance around at the many very cold-looking Neopians who were gazing hopefully
at the many items near the tree, she took off, her mane billowing out behind
her, without consulting Courtney at all, and completely oblivious to the pair
of red Acaras who had walked up behind her, giving her an appraising sort of
nod. Sylannya watched, her eyes full of sorrow as her sister grabbed the bag
Cuni had just put down.
"We did use it wisely, Syl," she said quietly
as the blur of pink disappeared into the forest that would lead back to her
home. "Mother would have been proud."
To be continued...