Further Tales of Woe: Part Two
Bruno stirred, his mismatched eyes slowly fluttering open. He'd just had the strangest dream...
The hulking Gelert rolled over onto his side, reluctant to struggle to his feet. His dull ocean-blue fur masked the powerful muscles in his forearms, and was mostly concealed by the tattered remains of a once-expensive suit.
Bruno was the only Neovian that hadn't been freed from Krawley the Krawk's curse. He was still misshapen, a hideous beast in most people's eyes, with his swollen hunchback and lopsided gaze. He had massive paws, powerful enough to crush stone, but gentle enough to pick flowers - which was what he preferred to do.
Dawn's light streaked across the sky, slowly spreading the warm colours of sunrise into Bruno's meadow.
The curse had not affected his mind whatsoever. He was still the same shy, sweet, gentle fellow he had always been - but now he had more reason to be shy and insecure. His appearance...
He knew how ugly he'd become, but he'd embraced this fate. It wasn't because he'd drank the potion first; it was because he'd brought the curse upon his beloved townspeople. It was because he hadn't appreciated what he'd been born into.
It was because he'd brought such suffering to his dear family that he deserved to live the rest of his life as a grotesque gargoyle.
The meadow he'd slept in was beautiful, carpeted with luscious flowers. Bruno had always liked flowers - how colourful, yet effervescent they were.
Their beauty was fleeting.
Eventually their colours faded, their petals withered away, and they weren't anything pleasing to look at anymore - like himself. But in their prime, they were so alluring...
Bruno could never forget the lovely Aisha he'd fallen in love with, so many years ago. Her name was Lily. Lilies were pretty blooms, all spiky and bold, with that faint scent drifting about them.
The massive Gelert bent over, squatting beside a pure-white lily. He gently caressed the petals, but did not pick the stem, and soon walked away.
He would never get a second chance with his Lily, because he'd chosen a curse to win her affections, rather than his own abilities. And now, no one would ever want him... They couldn't even look at him without flinching or averting their eyes.
"No... that's not true. Sophie wasn't afraid of me... although she did pity me," Bruno rumbled sadly. "My poor little sister, left alone in that cabin for so many years, and all she worried about was how to fix me."
He smiled lopsidedly, melancholy eyes staring at a slender rose vine that wound about a tree. Sophie reminded him of a rose - all thorns and toughness, until you won her trust... then she opened up her gentle petals, showing her true crimson bloom.
And then there was Gilly.
The little Usul had literally stumbled into him in the Haunted Woods, and he couldn't get her off his mind since. She was so optimistic, so trusting... She hadn't been frightened by his appearance. Well, she had yelped at first, but that was because he'd screamed, too. He was more skittish than she was, Bruno thought with a smile.
No, Gilly wasn't scared of him... and didn't seem to pity him, either. The skinny little Usul with the bright orange hair and those big blue eyes, she seemed to accept him as a true friend... and that meant a lot to someone like Bruno.
The Gelert continued his shambling walk, heading for the swamp south of his secret flower meadow. He wanted to speak with someone, and Sophie was his best bet. He couldn't bring himself to re-visit Neovia...
He always felt like he was imposing, whenever he visited his family there. Reggie made it a point to spend time with him, but he knew his parents avoided his presence. His hideous face probably didn't reflect well on their social status... And what would he do if he saw Lily? His broken heart couldn't stand another rejection from her, but he knew he'd try to speak to her if they met... She was probably married by now anyway... and he didn't want to see that.
But... for some strange reason, he didn't want to look for Gilly, either. He knew the Usul would welcome his company, in her bright and cheerful way - and he knew she'd listen to any of his ramblings, no matter their importance. But Bruno felt a strange feeling stirring in his chest, one that forbade him to seek her out, one that made him feel guilty about even thinking of her.
He hoped that Sophie could help him, could help explain this new emotion. Maybe whisk it away with a magical potion, or other remedy. And he also hoped that her elite knowledge of all things supernatural could help explain the dream he'd had, too. After all, it was a dream about flowers...
As the Gelert meandered through the secluded area, he couldn't hold back a pleased smile. This whole area was paradise - the majestic trees, swathed in verdant vines; soft grasses interspersed with all manner of shrubs; wildlife flitting about in its unobtrusive and enigmatic way.
It was the kind of peace that one could only find hidden deep within forests, swamps, mountain ranges... Places far away from civilization. This was where Bruno belonged. There was no one to please here, no social status, no noise, no daily worries. It was a simple matter to subsist on fruits and vegetables, and wonderful to sleep under the stars and awaken drenched in dew.
So why was Bruno restless?
What was driving him to seek out companionship?
He shook his broad face in confusion, rubbing his thick forehead with a rugged paw. At times he sorely missed his former life, his happy family, his old self... But he knew he could never change, that he would always look like this. He'd known that for a long time now, so why...?
Why did he suddenly want to be handsome again?
Sophie the Swamp Witch turned irritably from her rickety chair.
After wresting the half-swallowed remains of a Woo Woo Grub from her favourite Meowclops's mouth, the short-tempered Ixi stomped over to the window, drawing the dusty curtains open with a 'snap'.
"Oh, no you don't!" she snarled, emerald eyes glinting with anger. "This is the third Meowclops thief this week, and you're not about to make off with one of my kittens!"
Patched skirts swirling around her long legs, Sophie dashed out the door, snagging her trusty staff before the door slammed shut. Back in the cabin, her old Meowclops scrabbled up onto her chair and began to gnaw on the Grub again.
Sophie stood on the porch, long two-toned verdant hair streaming about her as she raised the scepter above her head. With a quick shout and a flash of green, she cast a brief spell on the thief in question, a small figure fleeing in the direction of the Deserted Fairgrounds.
"I don't care how much they're worth - they're not for sale, and no snot-nosed little punk crosses me and gets away with it! See how you like being sold!"
The tall slender Ixi stalked out across her front yard, shooing the many Meowclops kittens that stumbled into her path. "Silly little things, all fur and one eye, no depth perception," she grumbled good-naturedly. Her petpets were about the only living thing Sophie showed kindness toward - that, and her brothers.
As she reached the former burglar, Sophie began to 'tsk' disapprovingly.
Her spell had gone awry.
It was intended to turn the fleeing Neopet into a Slorg - not forever, per se; but certainly for long enough to teach him or her a tough lesson about stealing from witches. However...
"Oh dear, he never let go, did he..."
At her feet was a mewling Slorgclops.
It had the single bright eye of a Meowclops; the same curling tail, and the little paws; but with the dull green shades of a Slorg, complete with slime. Even its pitiful meowing sounded garbled and slug-like. ...Did slugs make sounds...?
Sophie sighed. Apparently her intruder never let go of the kitten they'd pilfered, and when the spell hit, they had been inextricably intertwined.
"I doubt I can fix this, little one. You'll have to stay like this now..."
Frowning, she knelt and scooped up the mucous-coated petpet, biting back a small noise of disgust. The Slorgclops gargled a purr and nestled closer to her. She grumbled something about 'always having to deal with idiotic problems like this', and stomped back to her cabin in a high bad temper.
Sophie dropped her staff with a clatter, and unceremoniously dumped her sleepy old Meowclops from the chair to the floor. Taking her new Slorgclops by the scruff of its neck, she peeled it from her arms and plopped it beside the nearsighted petpet with an audible 'squelch'. It happily oozed over to its new friend, leaving behind a telltale trail of goo.
"...Ugh. This is a headache and a half," she muttered darkly. She couldn't sell it or give it up - she didn't trust anyone with her petpets, even bizarre ones like this. But she really didn't want to be responsible for such an eyesore... Even though it was her fault...
Suddenly a knock sounded at the door. Springing to her feet, the irate Ixi bared her teeth and shouted, "What now? If you're selling something or here on a dare, I suggest you run now, before you incur my wrath! Just ask the last punk who showed up here unannounced!"
She wrenched the door open, glittering emerald eyes glaring at the silhouetted form of her unwelcome guest. But immediately her fierce manner softened when she saw who was standing bashfully before her.
"Bruno! Brother, how have you been? I apologize for yelling - you wouldn't believe the morning I've had..."
To be continued...