Sunshine and the Sphere: Part Three
Dinner that night was quiet. The five other boarders were intent on eating as quickly as they could and getting to bed, and Emie and Rae were busy pushing their food around on their plates and avoiding each other’s eyes. Mrs Bronton spent most of the time glaring at Rae and trying to let him know how put-out she was. It was a relief to all when the dishes were finally picked up and taken to the sink. Rae was out of his seat and halfway across the room before he heard his aunt’s voice.
“Raeden. A word, please.”
Rae grimaced and glanced at Elle. The small Island Kougra had always come with him and supported him when he had to talk to Miss Bronton, but tonight she pretended to be completely focused on washing the dishes. Rae sighed and followed his aunt to her study.
Mrs Bronton sat in one of her huge, squishy chairs and motioned to the other one for Rae. The red Kougra obediently sat.
“This is getting serious, Raeden.”
“I’m sorry you see it that way, Miss Bronton.”
The large blue Yurble sighed. “I’m not the only one who does, Raeden. Pretty much everyone in this household lost out on sleep last night because of you. And not only that, but you left mud all over the carpet.”
Rae looked at his feet and said nothing.
“If you have a problem, you need to ask for help. I’m here for you.”
Rae continued to watch his feet, as though they were the most interesting things in the world.
Miss Bronton sighed in frustration. “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, Raeden.”
Rae finally looked up, suddenly feeling guilty. “Nothing. You haven’t done anything wrong. I just... I need to do this on my own. Please try to understand.”
Bronton looked at him for what felt like years before sighing and running a paw through her hair. “Alright, Raeden. I’ve always expected you to trust me, and now I’ll try my hardest to trust you. But, whatever it is you’re doing, stay safe.” She shook her head. “It’s starting to get late. I suppose you’d better go to bed.”
Rae wanted to say something, but all he managed was, “Goodnight, Miss Bronton.”
The red Kougra left with conflicting thoughts. He knew his aunt had done a lot for him; as little as he liked to admit it, she might even be a bit fond of him. Maybe just a bit.
He climbed the stairs slowly, and paused as he passed Emie’s room. The door was open, and the small island Kougra was sitting on her bed with her back to him. Her shoulders shook gently with sobs. Rae opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. Now wasn’t the time. He turned and kept walking onto his room, feet dragging.
He didn’t bother getting into his pyjamas, instead he climbed into his bed fully-clothed and turned his clock around so he could see the time. Nine pm. Two hours until the meeting.
Time crept slowly, but Rae scarcely noticed it. His mind was completely occupied battling against itself. As soon as he thought he might have made a decision, a new thought popped up, leaving him just as confused as before. He wanted to do what was right by his family; but by trying to help them he was hurting them.
At twenty to eleven he sighed and dragged himself out of bed. Shivering in the cold, Rae pulled on his old jacket and buttoned it up. Next, he pulled his thick boots out from where he’d kicked them under the bed the night before and put them on.
Moving as quietly as he could, Rae opened the door and crept down the hallway. Scarcely daring to breathe, he tip-toed past his aunt’s room. Inside, he could hear her snoring. She must have been too tired to stay up tonight. That was a relief.
Rae reached the door without problem and let himself out. It was even colder outside then it was inside, and already dew was starting to collect on the grass and freeze into frost. Shivering, Rae began hurrying down the road as quickly as his legs would take him. All of the sensible people must have been staying inside, keeping warm and getting some sleep, because the streets were empty.
Freezing mist rose from the ground, obscuring Rae’s vision; but it didn’t matter much. He’d taken this path over a dozen times during the last few weeks and knew it off by heart.
He’d only been out for a few minutes, and already nothing seemed more appealing than his bed. A shiver ran up his spine as a cloud drifted over the moon, taking away most of the light and leaving him in a dark and deserted street. Rae suddenly got the sensation of being watched and he swung around, trying to look through the fog. The road was empty.
Shuddering, Rae sped into a jog, navigating through the streets easily until he came to an old pile of rubble. He moved around behind it, and found the doorway. Glancing around, he quickly pushed it open. A lantern was raised, illuminating a tired looking skunk Kougra wearing an old leather jacket.
“Good morning, Val.”
The Kougra snorted. “Good, you call it? Gosh, Pouncer must have hit your head last night, or something. Good my foot. And, it’s not morning. Only insanely late night. Give it a few hours yet.”
Rae grinned and walked past Val and down a flight of stairs. Val was a friend of Pouncer’s; tough, quick and smart, she tended to dress in black and favour sarcasm as a means of communication.
The passageway soon levelled out and opened up into a makeshift dirt room. In the middle of the floor was a rough wooden table covered with documents, maps, and scribbled calculations. Standing around the table were two pets- Pouncer, leaning on the wood surface heavily with his brow creased in concentration, and a brown Bori clacking his claws together impatiently.
Pouncer glanced up from the document he was examining as Rae entered. “Glad to see you made it, Sunshine. Want some coffee or something?”
“Nah.” Rae punched the Bori on the arm playfully. “How’re you doing, Alden?”
The Bori shot him a dark look. “Don’t ask, and I won’t have to answer you.”
“I’m sorry I had to call you here,” Pouncer began. “I know I said we could have tonight off, but that was before Copper made a move. Here-”
The large Kougra was cut off abruptly as someone yelled from the passageway. The reaction from those in the room was instant- with one swipe from a massive paw, Pouncer shoved everything off the table and into a trunk that was open on the floor, and Alden slammed the lid shut. Sounds of a scuffle came from the passageway and Pouncer made to run to help, but before he could take a step the door was shoved open, and a small island Kougra was thrown into the room.
Rae’s jaw dropped in recognition. “Emie?”
Val appeared in the doorway, dark fur bristling and teeth bared. “I caught that thing trying to sneak in. Spy!”
Emie tried to scramble away from the furious Kougra. Rae, recovering from his shock, ran to help her up, but Val sprang forward with a snarl.
“No!” Rae cried, shoving Val away and pulling Emie to her feet. The small Island Kougra buried her face in Rae’s shirt. “I’m sorry!”
On one hand, Rae was angry with her for following him; but on the other he was relieved. No more secrets.
“It’s okay, Emie. You’re safe. Val won’t hurt you.”
“I won’t, eh?” Val pulled a knife out of her belt furiously. “The little fiend was spying on us!”
“She wasn’t!” Rae cried defensively. “She’s my friend.”
“How do you know that? How do you know she’s not one of Copper’s? She-”
Val and Rae froze abruptly as Pouncer stepped between them. His fur was bristling and claws were exposed. Rae swallowed and pushed Emie behind him, and Val dropped her knife.
Pouncer looked at the three other Kougras and frowned, his one good eye narrowing. “Enough. I won’t have my team arguing like this. Sunshine trusts Twinkletoes, and I trust Sunshine. Anyone arguing with him argues with me. Got it, Queenie?”
Val looked at the ground and nodded.
“Good.” Pouncer took a breath and let it out slowly. “Now, I think we need to have a few explanations. SIT DOWN, Queenie.”
Val sat, very quickly. She didn’t seem inclined to argue with Pouncer. The massive shadow Kougra looked at Emie. “What are you doing here?”
Rae looked at his small friend and raised an eyebrow. “That’s a good question, you know.”
Emie shook her head and her ears turned crimson under Rae’s gaze. “I wanted to know where you went at night. I was worried about you, Rae. You wouldn’t tell me anything, and after I met him...” Emie trailed off as she looked up at Pouncer.
“And so,” Rae said, “you stayed up last night and, when you heard me leave, you followed me.” The red Kougra folded his arms and regarded Emie with a mixture of annoyance and amazement. “If Miss Bronton finds out about this, she’s going to be so mad at us.”
Emie smiled at him shyly and looked around the room. “What is this place? And why do you meet here?”
“I’ll explain that in a minute,” Pouncer said. “But I think Queenie will blow a fuse unless we have some evidence that you aren’t against us.”
“I’ll vouch for her,” said Rae quickly. “She’s been my friend for years. I’d trust her with my life.”
“Thanks,” Emie whispered.
Pouncer nodded. “That’s good enough for me. What about you, Queenie?”
Val shrugged and rolled her eyes in general consent.
“And you, Stuffy?”
The brown Bori had been standing in the corner silently. At the question he narrowed his eyes. “I don’t mind.”
“Good.” Pouncer looked from the three Kougras to the Bori. “In that case, it’s only fair we explain. You already know me. This is Queenie.”
The skunk Kougra frowned at Emie. “My real name’s Valorie. He just likes to call me the Jaded Queen. Or Queenie.”
“Has he given everyone nicknames?”
“Yeah,” Rae said. “Pretty much. He calls me Sunshine- it’s a joke. Rae, ray of sunshine, Sunshine.”
Pouncer yawned and leaned against the wall, looking amused. “You already know him, so that leaves-”
“Aldenthorp Theodolphus the Third.” The Bori bowed stiffly. “You may call me Alden. That’s the only nickname you need to know.”
“Aww, c’mon, Stuffy.” Pouncer grinned broadly. “I love your nickname!”
Alden turned bright red and opened his mouth to say something impolite, but one glance at Pouncer’s giant claws made him clamp his mouth shut again.
“What we do,” continued Pouncer in a more serious tone, “is top secret. What I’m about to tell you, you must never repeat to anyone. On pain of death. Got it?”
Emie nodded mutely, and Pouncer pulled open the trunk sitting on the ground. He grabbed the contents and threw them onto the table, smoothing some out. “These here are documents showing all of the streets and major buildings in this town, and records of most of the buildings that have been destroyed or renovated in the last two hundred years.”
Emie, entranced, moved forward and unfolded one of the maps. “This has the mark of the local library on it.”
“Yeah. We... ah... borrowed most of them.”
Emie dropped the map as though it had burnt her. “You stole them?!”
“No,” Pouncer said slowly and deliberately. “We borrowed them. They’re on extended loan from the library. We may take a few years to give them back, that’s all.”
Emie frowned, not looking very convinced. “Okay. What do you need them for?”
Pouncer’s smile widened and he picked up an old piece of parchment. “This.”
To be continued...