Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 135,120,768 Issue: 263 | 27th day of Collecting, Y8
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Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part Three


by rainbow_daydreamer

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A few hours had passed since lunch, but I didn't feel like going to my classes. I lay on my bed, staring at the stars outside the window. The door was locked from the inside, so Dar and Starie couldn't get in until I left. And that was how I wanted it to be.

     I wished that I could be outside, flying among the stars. I wished that I could be anywhere but on the cadet base, even that I hadn't ever come to Kreludor. I wished that Lady Mianne hadn't ever come to the Adoption Centre looking for pets to train. If she hadn't come, I would still have been there, still lonely, but always with a hope of better things. Now that hope seemed to have faded away, and the only thing I could look forward to was graduating from the cadet academy and flying away from here.

     There was a knock at my door. I looked out hesitantly, but the visitor was only Nellenne, holding a small white envelope in her paw. "Maylaura, I wondered if you might be here," she explained. "You weren't in your classes this afternoon. You aren't ill, are you?"

     "Homesick," I managed. It was the truth, in a way. There'd been enough deception.

     "Oh, dear," she sighed, genuinely worried. "You had best get over that, my dear. The new cadet group will be arriving in a week, so some of the better trainees will have to move to the base at Star City. Maybe you should take some time to practise with your friends." Remembering why she had come, she set the envelope on the bed. "One of the other cadets sent this up for you. Can't remember her name."

     "Thanks." I nodded weakly. Nellenne bustled out of the room, closing the door behind her. Catching my reflection in the mirror, I sighed. She had had good reason to think I was ill; I hadn't looked so bad since my first day at the Adoption Centre.

     Lifting the tiny white envelope in one paw, I slit it open.

     Inside was a beautiful drawing. A little yellow Shoyru was seated by a window, looking up at a starry sky outside. In a neat, careful hand I didn't recognise, someone had written words below.

     I wish I could be what I was

     when I wished I could be what I am.

     I turned the card over and over, but there was no name, no indication of who had sent the drawing or why.

     Someone on the cadet base knew how I was feeling. Someone had seen straight through my defences, into my heart and all my secrets. I didn't think it could be Starie, with her constant breezy optimism. But I had no other real friends on the base, and I stared at the card trying to think who would be able to judge me so well.

     I wish I could be what I was

     when I wished I could be what I am.

     My mind returned to Nellenne's words. Some of us would be flying away from this place, in just a few days. Perhaps, if I practised well enough, I would be among them. I'd get to leave all of this behind and make another new start, without Dar or Starie or anyone.

     Out of nowhere, my hope for the future was returning.

     *

     "Get out of the way! I can't see!"

     For once, the cadets on lunch break had no time for their food. Pets were jostling one another in the corridor, trying to catch a glimpse of the already creased paper that Nellenne had pinned to the wall. A white Aisha squealed in delight, hugging her Kiko friend in enthusiasm. "We're both on the list! We're going to Star City!"

     "Let me through!" I took off at a run, flapping over the heads of the crowd to see the list. Slowly, almost disbelievingly, I read it.

     "I'm not going..."

     It was no mistake. My name, for all my training, was nowhere to be seen on the list. I tried to stop my eyes filling with tears; I'd worked so hard for this. Last night, I'd even fallen asleep in the holographic lab, my head resting on the simulator controls. And now all that effort had come to nothing.

     But Starie's name was there, somewhere towards the end. My heart leapt for a moment. Perhaps, if I brought her the news, Starie would be happy enough to talk to me for a while, instead of Dar. Perhaps we could be friends again.

     I didn't see Dar or Starie in the crowd, and the cafeteria was deserted. Pushing my way past the excited cadets, I flapped my way back to our room complex, shoving the door open in my haste to get to Starie first.

     "Starbethanie? You're on the- "

     No-one was there.

     Dar's suitcase was lying on the bed. It looked as though a few items had been snatched up hurriedly, leaving most of her books and belongings behind. A dusty circle on her bedside table was all that remained of her Airax's cage, and her bedcovers lay on the floor as though she'd been in too much of a hurry to make the bed. On Starie's side of the room, there was no such disorganisation; her own bedclothes were neatly folded, and her suitcases were gone without trace.

     "Starie! Dar? Starie- " I ran through the base, asking cadet after cadet whether they'd seen my roommates. No-one had. The trainers hadn't noticed their absence, but they'd been missing from all the morning's classes. By now, the others were beginning to gossip.

     "I bet Starie's owner came back for her when he found out his little girl was getting her fur messed up..."

     "Dar's probably decided the teachers are way too stupid for her. That Gelert always had her nose in a book."

     Starie's disappearance was worrying them. Dar's, less so. It seemed no-one had cared much for my roommate's cold manner and sarcastic comments.

     As for me, I couldn't help thinking of my own theory, like a cold dagger to my heart.

     Dar had told Starie that I wasn't a celebrity after all.

     It seemed the only explanation.

     After that, it wasn't hard to imagine what would have happened. Starie had been upset beyond words, horrified by my deception, and Dar, as smooth and unruffled as ever, had sweetly offered to take her home- because, after all, why would Starie want to spend another day around a liar like me?

     If I hadn't tried so hard to keep my abandonment a secret... The voices in my head were mocking and cruel. If I hadn't been so afraid of that evil, evil girl Dar...

     By evening, the chosen cadets had taken off on the shuttle to Star City. With half the trainees gone, the Kreludan base felt empty and much too large for my liking. I wandered from room to room, feeling that it would be comforting even to hear one of Dar's acid remarks.

     It's all my fault. The thought was too strong to leave alone. Without waiting for supper, I climbed into bed and cried, again, for the loss of my best friend.

     *

     "Maylaura?"

     I drifted out of sleep, hoping to see a familiar face.

     Nellenne smiled down at me. "Maylaura? You might want to see the new cadets arriving, I thought. One of them might be sharing your room, now that your two friends seem to have moved out."

     New cadets? I jumped out of bed and ran to the arrival port.

     Sure enough, a new shipload of pets was spilling out into the light, holding suitcases and toys in their paws and wings. One little pet caught my eye; a small Ixi, staring not at the strange gloominess of Neopia's moon, but at the huge complex beneath its permanently starry sky. She didn't have the enormous suitcases that some of the other pets carried, just a Super Springy Poogle trailing from one hoof. My heart went out to her at once, but I wouldn't be able to meet her for a while. She would have her training to go to, and her fellow cadets to meet.

     Once the shuttle was empty, I checked no-one was looking before sneaking out of the building. It wasn't impossible that some of the richer cadets might have dropped their belongings in the shuttle; careless and decadent pets rarely cared for the occasional plushie or fur-brush that got left behind. My own Meerca toy had been my rich cousin's before she decided she didn't need it any longer, back when I still had cousins, siblings, a family of my own. Before everyone I got attached to seemed destined to leave me.

     Sure enough, a gold bracelet lay on the landing field. I slipped it onto my paw and tiptoed to the shuttle.

     The lights in the little spaceship were turned off. I knew I shouldn't be here, but I had to find some new possessions. I couldn't let my... my next best friend find out that I was a homeless Neopet. This time, without Dar to ruin everything, I might just make it work.

     "Oh, yes," I practiced under my breath. "Maylaura. From Shenkuu."

     As the light flickered on above my head, I gasped.

     Lying huddled in the corner of the shuttle, her eyes closed, was a rainbow Uni with a tangled mane, wearing a torn dress. Wrapped in her forelegs was a birdcage, where a blue Airax watched me with suspicious eyes.

     "Starie?" I whispered, creeping closer. "Oh, what has that Gelert done to you?"

     There was a click. The wire door of the birdcage swung open, and the Airax stuck out its neck to offer me a carefully folded note.

     "Huh?" I opened the paper. "A letter? For... me?"

     It seemed as if I'd seen the handwriting before somewhere as I read.

     Dear Maylaura,

     By now, you will have noticed that I'm gone. I am sorry I left without warning, and that I most probably won't be back any time soon. I was afraid this would have to happen at some point.

     Maylaura, once I told you that everything in our world might be nothing but an illusion. If you like, that's true.

     A few months ago, two Neopets- a silver Uni and a Kiko-- went missing while exploring Kreludor. One of them we found without too much trouble. He was trying to talk his way into Star City, in a stolen spacecraft. The reports said he'd been subjected to some kind of mind control. It was my job to find the other.

     That Neopet was your friend, Starbethanie.

     I stared at the Uni lying asleep in the corner, her forelegs still curled around the birdcage.

     Starbethanie's job was to infiltrate the Neopian Defence Force, with a new rainbow coat and a new manner, disguised as an ordinary trainee cadet. She had to ask the key questions that would help her report back to her leader, and you proved to be a perfect target for those questions. I had to scare you away from her while still holding onto her trust.

     When Starie vanished from her room a couple of days ago, I thought I was too late. I was lucky enough to guess her destination and get to the landing bay of her spaceship before her little shuttle did. The drug I've given her has just about cancelled out the control he had over her mind, but unfortunately I can't fit the both of us in my one-pet ship, and her own shuttle is out of fuel. I guess you could say I'm in trouble, Maylaura. Never mind. I've come through worse, and it'll take more than being stuck on a space station to stop me.

     I'm giving this note to my Airax. Bethan will take him with her and try her best to get back to you. I can only hope she makes it. Despite everything she's been through, she is a brave little Uni. Take care of her.

     Keep your courage, Maylaura, and don't give up. One day, you'll be the pride of Lady Mianne's forces. As a great writer once said, there are no stars brighter than the light that shines from a Neopet's pure heart. And if memories are the only place where we ever meet again, I hope they only ever bring you happiness.

     Watching you across the stars,

     Darieto Aluzzari

     I looked up from the letter, tears falling onto the crumpled page. Starbethanie gazed back at me, her dark eyes filled with worry and sadness. She must have woken while I was reading.

     "Starie? Do you know where you are?" I asked gently.

     "My name was never Starie. Call me Bethan." Hanging her head, she turned her eyes away from me. "Yes, I know. Dar took away that thing that was inside my head... but I can't forget what's happened. Maylaura... I lied to you. I'm sorry."

     I could almost hear Dar's voice, firm but gentle. No more secrets.

     "I was never who you thought I was myself," I told her, helping her to her hooves. "I'm not the famous Maylaura of Altador, that's for sure. I've never been out of Neopia Central in my life."

     "My owner..." Bethan was trembling. "I tried to contact him, but he'd taken my brother and gone away. He didn't have time for a traitor to Neopia, he said." She choked back a sob, taking a long breath of the cold, thin air. "I'm ownerless, now."

     "We both are," I said distantly, folding the paper and giving it back to the Airax. "There's a lot I have to tell you, Bethan."

     "Can we..." She picked up the birdcage, holding it close as if it was a magical charm. "Maylaura, can we... be friends? Even now?"

     "C'mon, Bethan," I said, wrapping my wings around her. "You can't stay out here all night. Let's get you inside and I'll find you something else to wear."

     She didn't move. I took her hoof, guiding her back to the base.

     "Don't cry, Bethan. Don't. I'm here. And Dar is watching you, wherever she is." As I spoke the words, I realised I believed them. There was no time for deception. "You know she always will."

     I wish I could be what I was when I wished I could be what I am.

     Dar must have written that. Now, I knew, it was true. I wished I was still that silly little Shoyru who thought there was nothing to the world but friendships and childish rivalry. I wished I still thought I was the only one who tried to outsmart the world. But there was no use in dreaming.

     Bethan and the Airax were mine to take care of. Neopia itself was mine to take care of. And for one brave, misunderstood Gelert's sake, I was going to try.

     There would be no more time for keeping secrets.

The End

Dedicated to a Neopet I'll always miss, mine forever in my imagination. Memories and stories are the only place we'll ever meet, but in my heart you'll always be among the stars, Darieto.

 
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Other Episodes


» Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part One
» Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part Two



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