Masks and Roses: Part Seven
A few of Gwendolyn’s followers gave chase, but soon, they lost sight of their escaped prisoners. Not long after that, Eira began to grow used to the weights on her wings, and she and Kat soared high above the Mystery Island treetops. The golden afternoon sun bathed them in light, and although it was a cool day, the two hardly noticed. In fact, they seemed numb to the world, numb to everything except one fact: They were free.
Eventually, the treetops faded, replaced by dirt roads and houses. And although she knew the Shoyru wouldn’t admit it, Kat was pretty sure Eira was growing tired. As they flew over a seemingly secluded section of Mystery Island, Kat suggested Eira land for a while, to regain her energy. The Shoyru protested at first, but eventually, she gave in; no matter how used she was to the weights on her wings, lugging Kat around the sky was no easy feat.
They touched down upon a hilly road that seemed hardly traveled; spongy grass was growing over the path, and there were no visible footprints embedded in the dirt. Exhaustedly, Eira let go of Kat’s wrist and furled up her wings. Then, she sat down. Kat followed suit.
“We need to stay out of the public eye,” Eira said vacantly. “Gwendolyn’s minions are going to be on overtime.”
“Where can we go?” Kat asked.
“I’ve got a mate over on Krawk Island – not very far from here. I bounce around a lot, from place to place, and I was planning on staying with him for a bit, anyway. You’re welcome to join me until the search dies down,” Eira replied.
“No,” Kat said, choosing not to mention that the search might never die down. The Wocky picked at her filthy shirt sleeve and smoothed out her holey, poorly fit trousers.
“Why not?” asked Eira. “Do you have somewhere else to go?”
Kat gulped and took a deep breath. “No... it’s just that... my mum...” She hadn’t thought of Rose since the night before, when she was wallowing after her botched interview. But now her mum came back to mind at full force. The whole purpose of Kat’s mission had been to defeat Gwendolyn, to let her mum go on living normally. She couldn’t escape then leave Rose to wither away.
“What about your mum?” Eira said.
Any feelings of distrust Kat may have had about Eira that morning were gone. If she was a spy, a fake, she wouldn’t have gone to such measures to escape. Not even her occupation bothered Kat anymore. So what if she was a thief? She’d helped get Kat out of the miserable dungeon. She’d lugged her for hours through the sky. That was all that mattered anymore.
“Gwendolyn’s got my mum,” Kat said after a while. “At her main camp. She wanted to see her personally.”
“Oh, blimey, that’s horrid. What did your mum do?”
“She saw her face.”
Eira nodded understandingly. “To get anywhere in my profession,” she said, as if thievery was a respectable line of work, “you’ve got to know your competition. The big names. Gwendolyn... she’s a bloody giant. Just no one knows what she looks like. That’s the only reason she wasn’t defeated a long time ago.”
“Well, my mum was the unlucky soul who took off her mask.”
“You’re not going to try and save her, are you?” Eira asked with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know you very well, Kat, but to escape just to put yourself back into inevitable captivity – it hardly seems worth it.”
“She’s my mum,” Kat said. “What else is there to do?”
“No one even knows where Gwendolyn’s main camp is. What makes you think you’ll ever find it?” Eira questioned.
Kat shrugged; it was a miserable excuse for an answer, but she didn’t know what to say. The Wocky didn’t know how she would find Gwendolyn’s camp, and she also knew defeat was likely. But she wasn’t going to let Rose rot away. She couldn’t even think of doing that.
“I’ll manage,” Kat said eventually.
Eira didn’t reply for a long while. She simply stared down at the ground and mindlessly tore out blades of grass. Then, she turned toward Kat. Hesitantly, she said, “Do you want help?”
“You just said my plan was hardly worth it, Eira.”
“I ran away from home the first time at eight,” Eira said. “I’ve always loved exploring. That’s sort of how I came to be a thief. I travel a lot, because if I were to stay in one place too long, I’d be caught. I like to find new, exciting things. I don’t care how unreasonable your plan is, Kat. Do you think I’d turn down the chance to find a villain mastermind’s lair and help spring from her dungeon a poor, helpless pet?”
Kat grinned. “I suppose not.”
“Exactly. Now, if I can finagle these weights off my wings, we can cover ground much faster. Mystery Island isn’t that big. Kat, we’ll have your mum soon.” Eira’s face darkened then. “Or, at least, we’ll get caught trying.”
It took a lot of coaxing, but eventually, Kat snapped the weights off of Eira’s wings. The Shoyru howled in pain as Kat went tumbling to the ground, awkwardly clutching the first device. Then, Eira realised that her right wing was free of heaviness, and she pumped her first in the air.
“One down, one to go!” Eira yelled, grinning ear to ear.
The second weight was easier to remove, and Kat managed to keep both feet on the ground as she twisted it off. Once it was gone, Eira effortlessly jumped into the air, fluttering around as if to show Kat just how easy it was.
“Now that that’s squared away,” Eira said, landing gracefully, “we ought to get us something to eat and drink. To give us energy for our quest.”
Kat nodded in agreement; the Wocky was surprised she had yet to black out from hunger and thirst. Fortunately, she and Eira discovered a babbling brook just a few minutes away from where they’d landed after their escape, and the area was laden with berry bushes and fallen coconuts.
The two ate heartily, and once they were done, they started their search for Kat’s mother in high spirits. But how quickly those spirits faded. Oh, how quickly, indeed.
That night, it rained.
In the back of her mind, Kat had known that precipitation was common on Mystery Island, but that didn’t stop the Wocky from being any less angry when the rain came. She and Eira had scoured all day for Gwendolyn’s headquarters, but to no avail. They finally landed in amongst the thick trees and cleared away some brush, making camp for the night. Then, thunder boom overhead, and shortly after, the raindrops arrived.
Soon, Kat and Eira were drenched. They curled up beside each other, trying to ward off the icy rain, but the two failed miserably. Eventually, out of desperation, Eira yanked a broad palm leaf off one of the jungle trees and put it over she and Kat. It worked surprisingly well for fighting the rain, and soon, the Shoyru was fast asleep.
Kat was another story. The Wocky lay stiff and shivering, her paws clutching the palm leaf with a death grip. She was tired beyond words, but even when she grew close to sleep, a sudden clap of thunder or crack of lightning brought her back to full alertness. Eventually, Kat stopped trying to sleep, and ironically, that was when she finally drifted into slumber.
Unlike the night before, Kat’s dreams the eve she spent in the wilderness were full of evil and deceit. Rose was a main player in all of them, but it was a different Rose, a wicked Rose. She taunted Kat, betrayed her, laughed at her little girl without a hint of caring in her voice. In the dream, as Rose ridiculed her, Kat cried, and in reality, she awoke in a cold sweat.
It had stopped raining. That was the first thing Kat noticed when she shot up from slumber. The ground was still soggy, and the morning air was damp, but the rain itself had stopped. Sorely, Kat pushed the palm leaf off her body and stumbled to her feet.
Kat’s clothes – the same ones she’d been wearing since the morning at Rose’s house – were disgusting. In addition to the rips and tears, they were now covered in squalid mud, and they felt heavy on Kat’s body. Still, she didn’t have anything else to wear, so Kat brushed off the filth without complaining.
Then, she looked down, at where Eira had been sleeping the night before. With a lump in her throat, Kat realised the Shoyru was gone.
Hesitantly, Kat stepped a few metres forward and glanced around. No Eira. A few more metres. Still, no Eira.
“Eira!” Kat shrieked at the top of her lungs, not even considering who else might hear her. “EIRA!”
But there was no reply.
To be continued...