In This Together: Part Six
It’s Giving Day.
Fiona is standing in the hallway with a box of decorations for the tree. In no time they’re all pulled out of the box, tinsel and baubles glittering all over the living-room, silver stars scattered on the rug. Ricky’s there, too, with his beautiful faerie Sis, sorting through glass snowflakes and striped candy canes. A small Miamouse is watching curiously from beneath the dark green branches, sniffing the good scents of candles and cinnamon in the air. She looks oddly familiar.
“Novella, will you put the star on top of the tree?” Fiona calls. I jump up and run to pick up the enormous golden star, and reach up to put it in place. But the tree is too high. I can’t reach.
“Oh, no!” Ricky looks distraught. “Giving Day’ll be spoilt if Novella can’t put the star on the tree.” I feel guilty at the sight of his worried eyes. Have I seen them before, sometime not long ago?
“It’s OK, Ellanova.” Voltare steps out of the kitchen and lifts me up onto his shoulders. “We can do it together, right? Now you reach up there.”
I hold the star out, trembling with excitement and apprehension. Just before I can place it, the fragile treasure falls from my outstretched hoof. Ricky gasps from somewhere far, far below me as I watch it fall. It seems a million years before it hits the floor, shattering into a thousand sparkling pieces.
“Novella!” Ricky’s Sis screams in horror. “Novella, how could you? You’ve ruined everything!”
One by one, the ornaments fall from the tree. The Miamouse cowers in terror as glass smashes around her. The tree itself is losing its needles, becoming a dark, twisted plant with spiky branches. Pulling myself away from the sight, I cling to Voltare for support. Fiona is yelling at me, and she is no longer Fiona, but my old owner, the one who created me, dressed in Fiona’s clothes and looking at me with hatred in her eyes. As I stand frozen to my place in fear, Voltare’s claws sink into my fur and I lose my footing. I’m falling, falling a million miles to Neopia, into a place where I never wanted to be. I’m falling…
A voice floated into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Jonny, fetch me another mugful of that snowberry tea. And step on it!”
“I’m not your waiter, Minette. Get your own drink.”
“It’s not for me, you idiot.” The voice called Minette seemed to be a girl, frustrated and annoyed, but with a tone of gentleness beneath the exasperation. “It’s for Bootsie up here. Call me an optimist, but I swear she’s looking better since we gave her the last lot.”
“Yeah, sure, when that little furball of hers drank most of it. OK, OK, I’m going already.”
“Minette?” A third voice called from further away. “Should I come up and fix your leg again? Is it OK?”
“Sure, my leg’s all right,” the first voice sighed. “Now if you can deal with this pain in the neck called Jonny, that would be a help, Tam.”
I opened my eyes.
A young Halloween Ixi was looking down at me, a large white mug held in her front hooves. “Wha--?” she exclaimed. “You’re awake! Tam! Jonny! She’s awake!”
“Where in Neopia am I?” I stared at the ceiling blankly. “What… no, wait… what happened to the Werelupes? Am I dead?”
The Ixi’s laughter seemed to light up the whole room. “What, you? No, you’re not dead, Bootsie. You’re as live as the rest of us, and we’re the least dead Neopets in the whole of the Haunted Woods, y’might say. You can call me Minette.”
“I’m alive.” I pushed the blanket off my shoulders, looking around. Dark branches were scratching against the window opposite my bed, but the house looked oddly out of place in the Haunted Woods: though the bedside lamp was decorated with bats, it cast a warm glow across what was really quite a pretty room. “Where am I? And my name’s Novella, not Bootsie…”
“Shhh.” My new companion put one hoof to her lips in an exaggerated gesture. “You never know who could be trying to find you out here. Better if they don’t know where you are, right? We called you Bootsie when we found ya, ‘cos of your snazzy new boots…”
“Find me?” I was confused. “Who’d be looking for me?”
“Well, I guessed you must be running away from something,” she shrugged. “Why else would you run off into the Haunted Woods on your own?”
“Nobody’s looking for me,” I explained. “I… I was looking for somebody.”
Minette took me down into the kitchen, letting me lean on her as I limped down the stairs. My left hind leg hurt whenever I took a step, but I could walk. Minette seemed to understand: she was limping a little, too. Downstairs, a Halloween Blumaroo and a green Lenny were waiting in the kitchen, the Lenny holding a teacup. “Oh, hey, Bootsie. Here, have some of this.”
It was snowberry tea, the sort that Fiona drank whenever she was upset or frightened. As I drank it, a tear slipped down my cheek, stinging my fur. “Don’t you like it?” the Lenny asked anxiously. “You seemed to get better quick when we gave you some, and it did wonders for your pet furball, too…”
“Oh! I forgot!” Minette exclaimed. “Tam, let her in.”
The next moment, a small green blur had flung itself around the corner and straight into my arms. Rachel held onto me as if she never wanted to let go again.
“Rachel! Oh, Rachel.” I hugged the tiny Petpet. “How did you get here?”
“She just followed us home,” the Blumaroo shrugged. “So how’re you feeling, Bootsie?”
“I’m better…” Suddenly I couldn’t stop myself from crying any longer. “I got lost in the woods… I couldn’t find Voltare! He could be anywhere by now…”
“Who’s Voltare, sweetie?” Minette set a plate of biscuits in front of me, and I began to tell the whole story.
When I had finished, the Halloween Ixi looked at me curiously. “We didn’t tell you how we found you, did we?” I shook my head.
Minette, Jonny and Tam had been returning from a trip to the Deserted Fairground when they’d heard howling and roaring from a nearby clearing. Jonny, the Blumaroo, had been all for running home at once, but Minette had insisted on investigating. “She’s crazy like that.” Jonny shrugged. “No offence.”
On entering the clearing, they’d seen a frightened Werelupe bolt past them, scratching Minette’s leg as he ran. Another lay unconscious on the grass, his fur torn. Minette had pushed her way through the undergrowth to see a fearsome Darigan Kougra standing at the centre of the clearing, fighting off half a dozen Lupes with his claws and teeth. When the last of them had been knocked out or had fled in terror, the Kougra had darted out of the clearing and disappeared into the distance. Climbing out of the bushes, Minette and her siblings had found me, lying on the grass like some child’s abandoned toy.
"So we brought you here," she shrugged, as if it had been nothing at all.
Standing up carefully, I put my foreleg gratefully around her shoulders. "Thank you… thank you so much. But I have to go."
"Go where?" Jonny spat out a mouthful of cocoa through his false vampire teeth. "You're not getting yourself almost killed again, idiot Bootsie."
"You said a Darigan Kougra," I insisted. "I need to find where he went, and follow him. A fierce Darigan Kougra that defended me for some reason… that could only be my Voltare. My big brother is still out there." I picked Rachel up from the table.
"Wait." Minette stood in the doorway. "I know you have to go, Novella dear, but you're not to go out alone. There'll be no running away from this house."
"Minette…" I clung to Rachel. "I don't want you getting in trouble for my sake. You should stay here. I just need a map, or something to help me find my way…"
The Ixi and Lenny exchanged glances.
"Lady Luck," Tam murmured.
Minette nodded. "If you won't take one of us with you, Bootsie, will you at least let us find you a reliable guide?"
We approached the Deserted Fairground as night was beginning to fall. On my back, I carried my tattered satchel, Rachel riding in one of the pockets. Minette stayed close to my side, leaning on Tam's wing.
At the little wooden booth a short distance from the gates, Jonny banged on the shutter with his paws. "Ladorna! Ladornaaah! Lady Luck, are you in there?"
"We're closed!" shouted a voice from inside the booth. "Come back in two hours."
"Ladorna? It's Jonny." He continued to hammer on the shutter.
"And it's Jonny who can't give a girl a break when she's having her evening catnap?" A tall Blue Aisha in a headscarf appeared at the window, pushing up the shutter with her paws. "And what is it you'd be wanting this time, Jonny the menace? You tell me you're after another of my boxes of chocolate and lime drops and I swear I'll chase you all the way home."
"No, it's not chocolate drops we're after, Lady Luck," put in my companion. "Although Jonny might say different."
"Minette! Minette Taveta." The Aisha dropped the shutter and came hurrying round to the front of the booth. She threw her paws around Minette, her long purple hair brushing against my ears as she swung her friend round. "And to what might I be owing this unexpected visit?"
"Ladorna, I'd like you to meet Bootsie." Minette pushed me forward. "Bootsie, this is my old friend Ladorna, or Lady Luck as we like to call her. She knows the Haunted Woods like the back of her own paw. If your brother is still in the neighbourhood, rest assured, she's your best chance of finding him."
"Looking for your brother, is it?" Ladorna bustled around the booth again, shelving toy guns and throwing a box of gummy sweets into Jonny's expectant grasp. "Well, you won't find me saying I'm not due for a few days' vacation. Give me an hour that I can pack, and I'll be set to go."
To be continued...