Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 157,654,463 Issue: 272 | 29th day of Celebrating, Y8
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In This Together: Part Five


by rainbow_daydreamer

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Ricky looked pleased. The Acara kid looked delighted. Even the Miamouse on the rug squeaked and jiggled about excitedly.

      "Where does it say the Kougra went after the incident? Where?" I pressed, grabbing at the front page. "Stole thousands of NP worth of items... blah, blah, blah, and so on... ah, here we go!" I stabbed a hoof at the paragraph. "The suspect was seen heading in the direction of..." I looked up, suddenly less cheerful. "...the Haunted Woods."

      The Acara visibly blanched. "The Haunted Woods? My owner told me never to go out there…"

      Ricky shivered, but tried not to show it; he forced his face into a smile as I watched. "Well, if you're intent on following him there, we'd better make some preparations... You get my Battledome weapons from the box in the attic, Novella. I'll have to look out my warm coat."

      "Ricky?" I asked gently. "You sound as if you're planning to come with me." As he nodded, I shook my head in turn. "No, Ricks. You have to keep house for your Sis. Remember?"

      He looked up defiantly. "I'm coming, Novella. I know my Sis wouldn't let you go out into the Haunted Woods all on your own."

      And what would she do if I took you with me and something happened to you?

      "I'm not going on my own, Ricky," I replied aloud. "I'm taking this Petpet with me." I scooped the Miamouse up and sat it on my back, hearing it squeak in delight. "She got me out of one scrape, who's to say she won't do it again?"

      Picking up my belongings as quickly as I could, I had a sense of déjà vu as I ran from the house, slamming the door before Ricky could follow me. Once again, I was running away, from someone who loved me, someone who was worried for me, running away to save my brother, to avoid hurting others, and once again it was the most painful thing I could have done. The little Miamouse clung tightly as I bolted along the street, holding my satchel in my mouth.

      "Hey! Stop!"

      Dreading what I might see, I turned. But this was no Neopian official. Instead, the Acara from the Adoption Centre stood there, holding out a warm fur-trimmed jacket and a pair of new boots. "That Gelert sent me to give these to you," he gasped, trying to get his breath back. "Says they're his sister's. You want them?"

      I took the coat, wrapping it around myself and the Miamouse, and pulled on the white boots. "Tell him thanks." A thought occurred to me. "Hey, kid? What's your owner's name?" I shouted as he began to run off.

      "Rachel," he called back, already almost out of earshot.

      "Rachel," I repeated, looking down at the Petpet, who twitched her ears attractively. "Rachel? Would you like that?"

      The Miamouse squeaked in what seemed to be agreement. I smiled and picked her up, placing her gently in my satchel. "Your name is Rachel, then, my love," I told her. Then, hanging the strap around my shoulders, I set off.

*

          I must be brave.

      As I headed west, the paved road gradually became a gravel pathway, then a simple track as the grass grew longer, the trees turning from sheltering oaks to tall, crooked trunks where Petpets snickered and snarled. Clearly, I thought with a mocking smile, I was on the right path.

      I must be brave. Never show that I'm afraid.

      A Halloween-painted Shoyru, her pretty red costume standing out amongst the dark, leafy bushes, was sitting picking purple-hued flowers from the withered grass. "Excuse me?" I asked her, determined not to let my voice tremble. "Have you seen a Darigan Kougra…?"

      She looked at me suspiciously. "What if I have? What's it to you?"

      "I'm looking for him. I'm his sister," I said without thinking. At once, the Shoyru let out a squeal of terror.

      "Get away from me!" she screamed, flapping into the air and trying to put as much distance between us as she could. I saw the expression of panic on her face as she flew away, not even stopping to pick up her carefully-picked flowers. Absently, I lifted one and tucked it behind my ear.

      She ran away when she heard I was the sister to a Darigan Kougra... she was scared...

      That can only mean one thing. Voltare's been here, and he hasn't been his usual self, either. What have you done this time, big brother?

      I made my way into the forest. Looking up into the crimson sky, I saw it wouldn't be long before night fell. Just my luck, to wander into the Haunted Woods at night. What on Neopia am I thinking?

      Night-dwelling Petpets took off from the darkening trees, and the cold wind made me glad of the coat I'd been given. Inwardly, I thanked Ricky and his sister. Rachel hopped into the hood of the coat and clung on as I walked.

      Something caught my hoof as I lifted it. I tried to scream, but my Miamouse jumped onto my chest, holding my mouth jammed shut as I managed to pull free of the Spyder web that had tangled itself around my ankle. Stupid Ixi, I scolded myself. Don't go screaming out loud.

      I remembered the time I'd got lost in a hedge maze that I had run into. I must only have been quite small. The branches and leaves around me had seemed never-ending, and I'd begun to cry. Now I closed my eyes for a moment, listening to the wind wailing in the trees, and imagined the touch of that soft fur on mine as my big brother picked me up, anxious love showing in his dark eyes, ready to carry me home...

      Rachel's squeak brought me back to reality. Her green ears twitching back and forth, she stared at me wide-eyed and then dived into my coat, quivering like a leaf in the breeze.

      "Whoa. What's spooked you, little Petpet?" I stroked her head gently, trying to calm her down. "There now. Don't be afraid. There's nothing to..."

      Somewhere near me, a branch on the forest floor cracked. But I hadn't stepped on it, and there was no wind to knock twigs down from the trees.

      "...be scared of," I finished in a murmur, taking a single step backwards. "Shhh, Rachel, shhh."

      Something was... wrong. I could sense it. Where I had heard soft sounds before, rustling leaves and the quiet calls of Petpets around me, now the clearing seemed almost too silent.

      A dark shape detached itself from the shadows, padding towards me on furry paws. I couldn't see what it was in this half-light, but Rachel trembled.

      "Voltare?" I whispered.

      The figure turned and sprang.

*

      It was not Voltare. That I knew.

      Before the strike, I had a glimpse of fangs, sharper and larger than my brother's, and glowing green eyes. This was no Darigan Kougra, elegant and graceful, but a ferocious canine figure, pushing me over in a moment. The next minute, the Werelupe had pinned me to the ground with his paws. Glancing desperately to my left and right, I saw more clawed shadows approaching.

      Rachel's heartbeat was racing. The little Miamouse was terrified, and I felt guilty for having got her into such trouble after she saved me in Neopia Central. For all I knew, she could be someone's beloved Petpet, run away from home herself. Some little Neopet might be crying for her right now.

      I tensed. I had hurt Fiona, I had hurt Ricky; I didn't want to be responsible for someone else's pain on top of it all. No matter what happened next, I had to protect Rachel from these bloodthirsty Lupes.

      My hoof kicked out at the lead Lupe's enormous paw. He pulled away for a moment, and I pulled off my coat with Rachel still clinging to it, throwing the warm jacket over a tree branch as the Werelupe lunged for me again. Rachel seemed to know to stay silent. She might be safe up there- just might-

      My action had cost me precious time, and now I was completely surrounded. I couldn't even contemplate fighting one of them, and I couldn't keep dodging their claws forever. The branches above me were too weak to support a Neopet's weight, I knew: there would no escape for me as there had been for Rachel.

      I shut my eyes, trying not to see the ferocious Lupes around me, and gasped as a claw scratched against my cheek. I was too breathless to call for help, and after all, who would dare face down this danger for a little white Ixi?

      My life flashed in front of my closed eyes. My old owner. Running away from home for the very first time, under Voltare's watchful eyes, when the place I'd left behind hadn't been my home at all, and the owner I'd deserted nothing like Fiona. Oh, Fiona… Ricky… Voltare…

      The world was drifting away from me. Even the clawmarks on my fur were beginning to lose their pain. But as I slipped into darkness, I heard an enormous roar, not a Werelupe's snarl. The voice of a Kougra, enraged.

      "V…"

      I couldn't even say the word before falling into the darkness of a dream.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» In This Together: Part One
» In This Together: Part Two
» In This Together: Part Three
» In This Together: Part Four
» In This Together: Part Six
» In This Together: Part Seven
» In This Together: Part Eight
» In This Together: Part Nine



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Athena opened her mouth to plead her sister's case but, catching a glimpse of her owner's face, closed it again. She had enough sense to recognize that was the end of it; there was no changing Elspeth's mind once she got that determined look...

by rainpaint



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