Further Tales of Woe: Part Four
Reginald needed to talk to someone about this... feeling. That strange, inexplicable happiness had come over him again, and he wasn't used to it. He had no reason to be happy, really. Content, perhaps, with a touch of loneliness; not this all-encompassing joy. But who could he speak to?
Certainly not Gilly herself. Somehow Reggie knew that she was the root of this mysterious emotion... He knew she'd be happy to hear him out, and would listen intently to anything he told her. But it would be a bit strange - downright awkward - to discuss something like this with her.
But his parents were always out and about, visiting this old friend, going to that ball, attending this banquet... Reggie hadn't felt close to either of them in years, and it wouldn't be comfortable for him to approach Mother or Father about something as intangible as a 'weird feeling'.
He'd always been close to Brother Bruno when they were younger. In fact, it was more of a hero worship than a brotherly love. He'd wanted to be Bruno when he grew up. But Bruno had changed in his eyes... The physical difference was blatantly obvious, but Reggie noticed his brother's personality swing more sharply. The new Bruno was simple-minded, accepting of everything, and rather fatalistic. He seemed to believe that everything happened for a reason, and that nothing ever changed in the world.
So... who did that leave? There was no one outside of his family that he trusted to confide in at all. But...
There was always his little sister, Sophie. As the youngest children in the family, they'd gotten along well in the past. She was a timid, gentle Ixi, with huge adorable green eyes. Reggie still felt bad about that flight through the forest, when he'd led Sophie to what he thought would be safety - a haven in the swamp, protected by an Earth Faerie. But apparently that Faerie had left her to fend for herself, and the new Sophie he'd seen briefly had been harsh and very defensive. She had aged outside of the cursed fog, and now looked much older than him. The short conversations they'd exchanged when he'd seen her were tense and pointed, often drenched in sarcasm or downright animosity.
She was a complete stranger. But Reginald had made up his mind.
"I'll find Sister Sophie. As mean as she might be now, I'm sure she hasn't forgotten our past. I mean, she slaved on the elixir to break our curse, so she has no grudge against Neovia itself... and she accompanied Bruno and Gilly... so I'm certain she won't turn me away."
Reggie swallowed, steeling his nerve as he stood squared against the iron gate. Gilly would be fine at his house - his parents would see to that. No, this journey had to be alone - Reggie wanted to prove something to himself.
He would find his sister's swamp by himself.
But it would be the first time he'd ever left the town he was born in.
Sophie sighed, sinking back into her trusty (but overworked) chair. It creaked ominously, but managed to miraculously hold itself together once again.
"Finally, some peace and quiet," she murmured, allowing her emerald eyes to flutter shut.
It had been a trying day, but at long last, she could rest and watch the sunset. A gargling coo sounded at her feet. The Ixi witch glanced down and winced, upon seeing her new Slorgclops. It was a cheerful little petpet, not caring whatsoever that all of the other Meowclops were shunning it. It had merrily amused itself by sliming all over her house, leaving gleaming trails of mucous across Sophie's carpets, books, and bedcovers.
"What am I going to do with you...?" she mused, idly scratching the petpet behind its pointed ears. It garbled a muddy purr, eye half-closed in enjoyment.
"Maybe I should give you to the next salesman who barges in on me. You'll torture them better than I ever can... Hm?"
Sophie stood suddenly, sharp eyes trained on the window. She'd seen movement out there, on the outskirts of her clearing.
"Oh, not another one...!!"
She slammed the door open, shouting furiously at the trespassing Neopet. "You get off of my property now, or so help you, I'll - "
Sophie realized she'd left her staff inside, and couldn't possibly perform any kind of magic.
" - I'll sic my newest creation on you! You don't want that!!"
She tried to resist a smirk as the Neopet - a Lupe - stumbled over himself in his haste to hide behind a tree. Her threat wasn't an idle one - her Slorgclops could certainly repel intruders with its appearance! Oh, the Lupe was shouting something to her... What was he saying?
"...Sophie! ...Sophie, it's me! ...Your brother Reggie!"
The Ixi gaped. It really was! Reginald had actually come to visit her...? As he hesitantly drew nearer, she could more easily recognize him - red-and-cream fur, that silly brown ponytail, and the cocky attitude.
Why would her bookworm brother come all the way out here to find her? Had something happened at home that she needed to know about? Certainly no sentimental whim would drag Reggie from his precious family library out to the middle of a swamp... It was too much of a coincidence, that both of her distant siblings had visited in the same day.
"So I see, Brother Reggie," she said tartly, turning her back on him. She didn't lock the door after her - but she didn't hold it open for him, either. "Were your books so boring that you came out here for me to tell you a bedtime story?"
Reggie bit his lip, pride stung, but he refused to sink to her level. Sophie was still his little sister, no matter how adult she looked now, and he wouldn't let her get the better of him. Besides...
He wanted her advice. He'd travelled all day, wandering lost throughout the forest. His outfit was mud-spattered and torn from branches, and his usually immaculate hairstyle was mussed up and disheveled. Unaccustomed to travel or physical activity of any sort, Reggie had taken many rests, been startled by many things, and had found the swamp by pure luck. This was the only chance he'd get to find out what this feeling was...
"Sister, don't be so cruel! I came for your opinion on some personal matters that have weighed heavily on my mind of late. I came to the conclusion that you were the best - nay, the only - one to discuss these sensitive topics of the heart."
Ignoring him, Sophie knelt to mop up some stray slime with a handkerchief.
"I don't think it's really magic, per se; but there's someone I met who makes everyone around her feel at ease," he continued cautiously. "It's like her very presence seems to whisk away malcontent and replace it with a simple joy. Her very aura, if you will, promotes happiness and good feeling - and in a place like Neovia! Is that... is that natural? How can anyone invoke such a... a powerful effect, like... she's taking over my mind... I can't stop thinking about her, Sister. What does this mean? Have I been bewitched...?"
Reggie stood, fidgeting uncomfortably. The awkward silence was finally broken when Sophie straightened, smoothing out her skirts unhurriedly. Under her breath, she muttered something along the lines of, 'stupid older brothers being so out of touch with feelings' and 'why am I suddenly the resident psychiatrist', and stalked over to her table. She began leafing through various papers that poked up from the pages of her dusty books, emerald eyes scanning for what she was looking for.
A long time passed, and Reggie couldn't handle the tension any longer. Even his sister's sarcastic mockery was better than getting the cold shoulder. The Lupe stepped forward quickly, meaning to catch her and spin her around to face him - but he never made it. Something soft brushed against his legs, and he tripped and fell flat on his face. The breath whooshed from his lungs, and with a faint groan, he curled up into a ball on the hard floor. Sophie glanced down at him and pursed her lips.
"You should watch where you're going, Brother Reggie. You tripped on my Slorgclops."
Looking up from his stiff position, Reginald found himself staring into the bright green eye of the strange petpet. It had the quaint charm of a Slorg, with the innate cuteness of a Meowclops. Unperturbed by someone tripping over it, the petpet gurgled a cheerful greeting and bit him on the ear.
"Owch!" he yelped, quickly sitting upright. "Sister, your pet seems intent on injuring me! Kindly remove it from the room, or - "
Sophie's face lit up with a wicked grin. "Oh no, Brother Reginald, he seems to have taken a liking to you! Normally I'd be loathe to part with one of my precious companions, but I deem you fit to raise such a healthy specimen. Isn't he lovely? I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time, you reading novels, him sliming all over the shelves..."
Reggie stared in horror at the Ixi witch. "Y... you can't mean that... You want me to actually raise this thing?! Out of the question, I could never, I haven't the time or the desire to - "
She raised a gloved hand to cut him off. "You want my advice, you're taking the petpet. That's that. Nothing's free here."
His pointed ears drooped as he watched the slimy Slorgclops happily ooze its way onto his lap. Any hope the expensive clothes had of being refurbished was now dashed to nothingness. He sighed heavily. He'd come this far; no point turning back now...
"Fine, Sister Sophie, have it your way. Just tell me why I can't stop thinking about Gilly."
Sophie's sharp gaze locked onto Reginald's countenance, making him nervously avert his eyes. She dropped the papers she was holding in a flurry of sheets, and quickly walked over to him.
"Did you say her name was 'Gilly'?" she repeated, her voice dangerously low.
Gulping, Reggie's head bobbed 'yes'.
"Y-you know, Gilly the Usul... The friend that you and Bruno -"
"Wh-what?" Reginald stood, awkwardly tucking the strange petpet under one arm. "But what did I -"
"Go now! Get moving! I don't want to talk about anything right now - we're going to Neovia!"
To be continued...