Masila: After the Battle
The Haunted Woods was a rather desolate, spooky place even on what was considered the most beautiful of its nights. A chilly wind poked its head into all the worn, broken windows and made the houses’ shingles rattle in its trail, searching for torches to extinguish and candles to snuff. Werelupe howls echoed throughout the surrounding forest, and most of the Haunted Woods’ residents were snuggled into their rickety beds in ramshackle wooden shacks or stone-hewn castles, dreaming of Ghost Pancakes and Candy Corn Classic as the forbidding wind pounded fiercely against the windowpanes.
Even on such a windy night as this, several of its temporary denizens were making the most of the night.
The gypsies were staying at the moment, and filled the woods with their leaping shadows as Neopets danced, silhouetted against the cheerful fire that was their one guardian during the night. Boisterous music ringing with the sound of fiddles and tambourines rang in the air, smothering the howls and letting all know that tonight was a self-declared gypsy celebration.
Leaning against a cart, a certain Neopian pulled her shapeless brown burlap cloak closer around her.
The cloaked figure was a storyteller. Not as famous as the pink Elephante that had mysteriously disappeared as of late, but still there. It was hard to tell her species under the hood, which she kept shadowing her eyes and face, but at least she had paws. The storyteller was the sort who didn’t like to consort with anyone. Don’t go to them; then they’ll think you’re nosy, was her personal philosophy on the matter. On the contrary, let them come to you. Then you know they like your tales.
If only storytelling filled her moneybag as efficiently as her previous occupation...
The storyteller was just feeding one more log to her meager fire when several gypsy children ran up to her.
“Look! It’s Masi!”
“Ooh, her? I heard she knows a lot of ‘em...”
“Tell us a story!”
“Yeah, any story!”
The storyteller gave a tiny smile and straightened, using a staff to help her. A terrible fall in the distant past had hurt her backbone considerably, so much that now she couldn’t go anywhere without her staff. The local children were known to joke about it, old Masi and her staff. They claimed she stuffed it with herbs and poured magical potions on it to help her prevent any more falls ever again. When she spoke, even her voice seemed to tell of the weakness she had suffered from since that one day. And yet the children hung onto her every word, for every word she spoke helped to bring them an adventure. Masi was a very good storyteller.
“I’ve already told you all my stories. There aren’t any new ones to tell.”
“Then tell us again!” called a small Gelert from the back. Ah, it was Cyn, the inquisitive, bold little blue Gelert who returned every night for her stories.
The storyteller’s lips twitched. “Who shall I tell you all about, then?”
The children looked at each other, and at once leapt forward with their requests.
“Tell us about Bruno!” A Blumaroo.
“Garin— he’s the king of pirate tales, you know—”
“Hannah the Usul!” Predictably, a female Usul.
“Isca- I want to be like her someday!” An Aisha.
“Tomas and Nabile!” A Uni.
“Kanrik!” That was Cyn.
The storyteller seemed to smile again. It was hard to tell, when her face was almost entirely hidden by the rough material of her hood. “Ah, you younglings. All you want are tales of light, of golden heroes, of triumph over evil. Beings who become so warped by tales that they are transformed into creatures of utter perfection. You want glistening statues of heroism and good endings that finish so peacefully and dramatically that they take your breath away.” She sat down, however, laying her staff across her knees. “Tonight, however, on a night when the wind bites at you like a live thing and the Werelupes howl at the gypsies’ shadows, I shall tell you not of good and light, but of the dark side of the moon.” Her index finger went up as she pointed straight above their heads, where a half-moon hovered.
A half-moon. Light and dark.
And so the children leaned forward to hear the tale she had to tell. It started off small and whispery, like a Reptillior sliding, gracefully but deadly, between dried leaves.
“It began with a death: the death of Galem Darkhand. The now ex-leader of the thieves’ guild. He was taken in the heart of the mountain by monsters and traitors, and lost to her as she escaped.
Yes, Masila was frightened. Frightened and as deadly afraid as her cold heart could be. Cold as ice, Galem had once told her— it had struck her as a beautiful comparison. But now Galem was gone, and Kanrik knew of her betrayal. There was nothing left in the thieves’ guild for Masila except punishment, perhaps even exile. She would never be exiled alive. They couldn’t exile her if she had already left.
And she had, fleeing the furious fight at the core of the mountain and those that had triumphed. For she had but a tiny dagger, a handful of Neopoints, and several corked bottles of self-brewed poison on her. Precious little to fight against the Bringer with, much less hurl at Kanrik. His little Usul friend might go acorns if gold was thrown her way, but Masila had a feeling that her dark-robed acquaintance would ignore the gold and instead chase the one who had tossed it in his face in the first place. And she had a sneaking sense that the fact she had poured poison down his throat wouldn’t help in mending the already-brittle relationship between them.
So Masila hid as she watched Kanrik, Hannah, and that pathetic Bori trot away to find help for the fainting Usul in his arms. She waited for night, for the darkness that would shroud her and hide her from prying eyes.
Snow was flying outside the cave’s entrance, but Masila was desperate. Though she wore the handcrafted, embroidered clothes of a gentlewoman as the thief’s wardrobe of her station called for, they were still fairly warm and would allow her to get to the nearest village safely.
Outside, nothing could be seen. It was simply white, and as Masila stumbled along, she kept on thinking that the white substance around her was feathers... they were soft, and called to her softly for her to lie down and take a rest, to relieve her aching paws in their snow-boots. But Masila carried on.
But the snow! It bit at Masila like a cloud of stinging petpetpets, making her paws shake with cold and her nose run. It got in her eyes and eyelashes and on top of her snout, and blinded her.
It was this that made sure she didn’t see the cliff. And down she fell—”
“—hey!” cried Cyn, the Gelert, excitedly. “She fell down a cliff just like you, Masi!” The other children murmured agreement.
“Who ever said I fell off a cliff?” asked the storyteller testily. “If you know, then tell me so I can teach them a good lesson with my staff.” The children snickered to each other; their favorite storyteller was infamous for being handy with her trusty staff. “It’s a good thing in a story; it’s something that could happen to anyone, I’m sure, not just a dotty woman who would later be telling tall tales to a bunch of snot-nosed children. Given a choice, I’d do a Sophie-the-Witch and turn you all into bugs. So much quieter in that state, believe me.” The children didn’t say anything. By now they were used to absurd threats from the sour storyteller. However, their silence was expectant and prompted the storyteller to continue.
Leaning back against the wall of the wagon, she continued. “Like I said, Masila fell. Down, down, and down. She was so stiff with cold that she barely knew what was happening. It was like falling from the sky, without any wings to spread to save herself. She expected the hard surfaces of stones covered by the raging snow, expected to hear the crunch of the collision, but it never came. There was simply a soft whump! as her body hit the snow, knocking the breath out of her lungs as easily as a Pteri pulls a grub out of a tree. Her garments were soaked, her breathing was ragged, and her paws felt as if they had been imprisoned in ice for years, not just hours. Pain roared in her side. And yet Masila carried on.
As Lady Luck would have it, she came upon a tiny inn: a light in the darkness of her vision, a wavering golden glimmer that sang to her exhausted senses. The innkeeper saw her first, staggering through the door, her nose blue, and stumbling more than walking. He thought her crazy, for walking in a storm such as the one screaming outside his window, but shut the door behind Masila and hurried to make her warm. He wrapped Masila in blankets and attempted to get the wet clothes off of her, but she snapped at him when his Zafara paws tried to rid her of the heavy, clinging coat. No one must remove her hood! But the innkeeper didn’t ask questions— like the other Terror Mountain residents, he had learned not to question those that made it clear they wished for secrecy— and simply gave her a room for the handful of Neopoints she possessed.
And so Masila recovered.
But hatred and the vile grudge she held now doesn’t fade in a day. On the contrary, she nursed it, feeding the black flame with twigs and bits of tinder until it teetered on the edge of consuming her. Of course, she didn’t let it. She went away, and melted into the Neopian economy until not a trace was left of her, like a Mortog that jumps into a pond and leaves naught but disappearing ripples behind. For as the heroes are transformed into pieces of perfection, those they defeated fade away, becoming dusty, scattered memories in the rich history of Neopia.” The storyteller closed her eyes, signaling the end of the story.
As soon as she finished, the children rushed in with the usual barrage of questions that naturally followed a particularly good story. The storyteller listened to them carefully, but she appeared to have her mind somewhere else.
“So no one ever seen her since?” asked one.
“Where is she now?” asked another.
“Where did she go?”
The storyteller smirked ever so slightly. “Oh, many people have seen her. Or at least, they thought they did.”
Cyn piped up as usual with the boldest question. “Who saw her? Do you know any of them?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I certainly know several who claim to have seen her. You might know someone who has, as well.”
“We have?” The Eyrie’s eyes were as large and round as Neopoints.
“Oh, I suppose you have,” said the storyteller, chuckling ever so softly. “And as to where she went, if I knew it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? A bit of info left behind in history... and now, it really is late. Time for you to be off. Even gypsy children sleep. Go on now, shoo!”
The children scattered immediately, with occasional cries of “Good night!” and squabbling over the juiciest bits of the story.
Once they were out of earshot, the storyteller stood up on the pretext of touching one of the wind chimes that swung from the wagon. “You can speak now, shadow that moves in the night,” she said without looking at the gleaming yellow eyes that watched from the roof of the wagon.
The thief moved to the ground with languid grace, his cloak making no sound as he slithered down. “You have grown better with your storytelling, at least. Spitting poison into someone else’s ear?”
The storyteller prodded a log in the fire with a long stick. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t lie to me. I spent years tracking you down.”
The storyteller straightened, and slowly lowered her hood. Green Acara fur and sly yellow eyes accented her still-proud face.
“You always were a resourceful one, Kanrik,” said Masila calmly. “I knew you would find me soon enough, but I always thought you would take less time. Such time it has been!” she sighed. “Forever and a day and we still wouldn’t be able to make amends for our little quarrel...”
“It was hardly a quarrel, Masila,” said Kanrik darkly. “What is it they call you now that your name has spread? Mistress of the Double-Cross? Spread by the art of the spoken word— most likely yours.”
“Oh, are you still bitter?” taunted the Acara.
“You poured poison down my throat. I nearly died. That is not something I can forgive you for.”
Masila shrugged. “Circumstances at hand called for my action, and as you must now know, Kanrik, I always act on my own interests first. No one is more important to me than myself. A heart of ice, as Galem so fittingly called it.”
Kanrik said nothing. He grew cautious whenever Galem Darkhand was mentioned.
Masila watched him out of the corner of her eyes. “We are not enemies, Kanrik. Time has passed. But neither are we friends. I, too, cannot completely forget... and this old wound of mine ensures that.” She touched her back awkwardly. “This mending bone remembers for me the flight from the mountains.”
Kanrik surveyed his ex-enemy equally as carefully. “That is your final word, then?”
“My final word. You will not get me to speak a single more.”
Kanrik leapt easily to the top of the wagon, then paused. “I just did.”
“Oh, stop it,” snapped Masila, though she was smiling at his audacity. “Go and let me be well rid of you, thankless Gelert that you are.”
Gelert and Acara exchanged one last nod before Kanrik vanished into the darkness surrounding the Haunted Woods. As for Masila, she pulled her hood back over her head to cover the Acara ears that were so obvious, and stoked the fire with renewed energy.
This did happen, you know. *firm nod*