Amelia shook violently.
She had to stop herself from trembling. She knew she had to hold every muscle in her hands steady or she would fall.
She gulped, not allowing herself to look down.
Amelia was only sneaking out of a two story building. But it was the whole fact she was sneaking out that killed her. It was the fact she didn’t want to leave. It was the fact she’d do anything to stay, to have frozen the last year in her mind forever. Amelia clung to the house’s exterior, glad that Zafaras were decent at climbing.
She landed on the floor with a thud.
She knew that if she ran away, he wouldn’t run after. The realization sent bitter tears streaming down her face. Her owner was sick, horribly sick. Today was going to be his last day in Neopia for a long time. He couldn’t try to stop her even if he needed to. And the bigger question was... would he want to drag her back home? Would he even care if he had the choice?
Did he care as much as she did?
These acidic thoughts in mind, Amelia blindly stumbled out into the driveway. And then, without warning, she ran.
Had she looked back, she would have seen him staring through the front window.
Had she looked back, she would have seen a tear in his eyes.
It was colder, now.
She had been walking aimlessly for days. She hadn’t had anything to eat in over a week.
Amelia was lost. Horribly, horribly lost. Her Zafara paws trembled in the chilly air. She had not expected it to get this cold this fast. She hadn’t thought out her escape well enough.
When she had been younger, she had loved the snow. Every winter before had been a blessing to her, because it meant Christmas. It meant her owner would be on break, and he would take her to Roo Island to ride the Merry-go-Round. Despite the fact it was frigid outside, they’d always eat ice cream in the main town square, enjoying other users’ perplexed expressions.
Winter was her enemy now. She realized, as each footstep got a little bit more difficult, that she was running out of time. There would be a blizzard soon. She knew now that she was hungry. She knew now that she was in the forest... but she didn’t know where she was.
She had once thought she had a plan. But it would have made more sense for her to just stay home.
It was that night that the first snowflake fell. She had been trying to find a place to sleep among the trees when it had hit her, its icy chill sending a jolt of panic throughout her.
It would be even colder tonight.
Amelia knew the night before had been nearly unbearable. Even with a furry Zafara winter coat, her teeth chattered endlessly.
Amelia began to run. She had to get her body temperature up, but that was not the reason. She ran for lack of anything better to do. She ran in frustration and agony. Her owner was not going to appear from behind the nearest tree, laughter echoing through the wind. Nobody was coming to save her. Nobody.
She stopped when she saw a small house in front of her.
The wood was deteriorating. The paint appeared to have been white at sometime, but it was bleak and faded. Bits of grass mixed with the walls, giving it an unpleasant rustic look. It looked like it could not stand another year, let alone be a proper house for anyone to live in.
Amelia reached for the doorknob. It fell off her in hand, and the door creaked open.
The remains of a formerly functioning hut were sprawled out before her. It had a stove, but it was dented and smashed in. It had a fridge, but it hadn’t run in years. Amelia spotted a bed, but there were no sheets. The cupboards were empty. The toilet looked broken. There was no paint on the walls. It looked like someone had either left in a hurry, or forgotten about the house altogether.
Although it wasn’t Amelia’s dream house, the closets had one merit.
There were clothes.
It appeared to be a potato sack, and a cloth belt. Nevertheless, Amelia pulled it on over her head. They were clothes. No matter how ridiculous and poor she might look, they kept her warm...
A piece of fabric caught her eye underneath the floorboard.
Cautiously, Amelia slid her fingers in between the cracks of wood. She gently pried the board up, and peered inside.
Inside there was one bizarre looking cloak, long and thickly layered. It was obvious that other clothes used to be there, along side of the cloak. Amelia wondered, for a second, where they had gone. She briefly wondered why this one had been the only one left behind.
But then she tried the cloak on.
Although there was no wind, it seemed to billow and swish with every breath. It clung around Amelia’s face, covering her chilled Zafara ears. It went to the perfect length on her arms, the layers making a slight appearance around her wrists. It was a luxurious purple, perfectly coordinating with Amelia’s reddish-maroon fur.
Despite the fact it was only Y3, and Amelia would later realize how outdated the art had been... it looked more detailed and perfect than anything she had ever seen.
The colour scheme was less exciting to Amelia than the fact the cloak was warm.
Amelia twirled around in a shabby mirror.
The cloak was just the right temperature. And, more astonishing, it fit her perfectly.
Exhausted, she curled up into a tiny ball in the broken down bathtub.
Amelia woke up with a jolt. Panic swelled inside of her as she realized that someone was approaching the house. Despite its appearance... it was not abandoned.
She flung herself out of the bathtub, and scrambled towards a broken in window. She began to pull herself out of the window, struggling with every movement. She was too slow. She was far too slow, and the steps were approaching...
The creature had noticed the door knob missing. Whoever it was surely had noticed that something was wrong by now.
Amelia’s suspicions were confirmed as she heard a loud, “HEY!” ringing throughout the hut. It echoed and vibrated in her ears, numbing her with terror. Nevertheless, she had freed herself. She jumped down through the window, landing on the fresh snow, and began to run for her life.
“You stole my cloak! Get back here, you filthy thief!!”
Amelia never even saw the owner of the voice. But she knew she wasn’t going to give up so easily.
Amelia could hear the owner trailing her as she ran. Amelia’s panic turned into sheer frustration. She grew exhausted, but she could not let any tears fall down her face or they would free. She was cold and scared, but she could not stop.
Then, perfectly timed, another snowflake landed on her.
That one snowflake was joined by thousands of others, covering the snow.
As the snow fall picked up speed, Amelia too moved faster. She knew her footsteps would be covered soon. She knew she had a chance.
Amelia could no longer see.
Blindly, she waddled in the snow. Every breath was a struggle. Every footstep was leading her farther into the white, the unforgiving flurry that was sprawled out before her.
Her hand hit something wooden.
Fearing she had come back to the hut, she took a terrified step back. She fell, tripping over herself. She could not get up. She did not want to get up.
Yet something inside of her told her there was food inside.
The very thought of food sent her stomach on fire. She hadn’t had food in so long. She hadn’t eaten in what felt like forever.
She crawled into the house and the forcefully slammed the door behind her.
This house looked very familiar to the previous home, except for it was a bit better furnished.
And there was food.
Amelia’s eyes took on a fire-like quality. The thought of eating possessed her completely, and drove her to scramble to the other side of the room. She hadn’t eaten in so long. She hadn’t even allowed herself to think about food. But now it consumed her mind.
Not even bothering to think whether anyone was home, or wondering how she had found two shelters amidst a huge forest, she crawled to the cupboard and began shoveling food into her mouth.
Before she could take her last bite, she stopped.
She had become a thief.
The thought twirled around in her head like poison. The thought overwhelmed her, a toxin in her system.
She had been known by friends and family to always do the moral thing. Yet, in her desperation, she hadn’t even thought about it. She had done the easiest thing. The thing that would satisfy the now. It had gone against all of her character. Stealing had gone against everything she had stood for.
Yet she looked down at that last bite, stomach still growling. With an animal like quality about her motions, she snatched the piece up and shoved it down her throat.
She heard footsteps. This time, her eyes flashed with a terrifying vicious appearance, as if she was a beast. The footsteps stopped, and a horrified child stood there.
The child dropped her plate. Upon seeing Amelia’s starving facial expression, she began to back up. “It’s... it’s you...”
Amelia slowly began to come back to her senses, upon seeing the child’s reaction. “Wha... what?” Despite Amelia’s calm state, however, her eyes still shone of hunger.
“I thought you weren’t real.” The child’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she pointed at the Zafara’s cloak. Amelia could see the hunger shining right back at her from deep within the child’s pupils. “I thought you were just a tale to scare me, to keep me inside...”
“But... but my name is...”
“You can take whatever you want!” The young Ixi’s voice rose to hysteria as she began to walk backwards faster, darting towards her bedroom door. “Take whatever you want. Just don’t hurt me! I beg of you! I have my siblings to feed! You know there isn’t enough food around here, anymore! You know we’re all starving!” Tears streamed down her face as she frantically dug around in a pocket for an object,
“But I don-“
“Then be gone, Zafara Rogue.” Her whisper was harsh and terrified. She drew a small sized sword from her pocket, and moved it in defense.
Amelia stared in shock.
Was that what they thought she was? Was that why the first house had such an angry owner, chasing her down the street?
But it had been the cloak. This Ixi had pointed at her cloak in terror. And she had found the cloak hidden in the other house. She had found a secret that should have been kept. Whoever had owned the cloak before apparently had titled themselves the Zafara Rogue...
Amelia felt horrible, despite her hunger. Despite her pain.
She had caught what the Ixi had implied. There was a famine. There was no food in this forest. Everyone, everyone, was struggling.
All of those torn down wood piles or crummy shacks she had stumbled across her first few days made sense now. They weren’t remains. They... they were where people lived. They were the results of poor Neopians being left ownerless and having to care for their siblings after the invasion of Tyrannia.
Every one of those wood piles had been all that some people owned.
Amelia couldn’t let that happen to her.
The Ixi was still standing there, the sword out. Her arm trembled as she watched Amelia’s expression. No more then a fraction of a second had occurred. Yet Amelia understood a lot more, now.
Amelia was a victim, caught in the enemy’s clothing.
They were all like her. They had just been here longer.
Horrified, Amelia sprinted out of the door and back into the snow.
She immediately regretted this decision.
The brutal winds pushed her down. She curled up into a ball, shaking. She knew she couldn’t hide from the snow for too much longer. She knew she was horribly lost, without an escape...
A voice pierced the air.
I know where the food is.
Amelia looked up with a jolt. She couldn’t have been sure if she had really heard it or not.
I know where you can find shelter.
It didn’t matter where the voice came from.
Amelia would take any offer she got. Amelia would do anything to save herself.
“Where? Where?!” Amelia’s voice feebly wavered in the white blanket, eaten alive by the snow. “Who are you?” Her cries pierced the darkness, her broken sobs wailing for food and stability. The thought of how things had once been gripped her mind, the memory of her home at the front of her head.
Nobody could have heard her above the suffocating silence.
Yet there was a response.
We need you. We need you for the Battledome. We’ve heard all about you...
Amelia didn’t correct his mistake. Amelia didn’t point out that she was an imposter, the wrong Zafara for the job. Instead, she looked up, her eyes meeting the shadow that was forming before her. It was the outline of a dark faerie.
“I’ve... I’ve heard of the Battledome. What’s in it for me?”
The Battledome reminded her of her trip to Mystery Island’s Training School. It reminded her of sitting on the beach, laughing in a warm climate with her owner.
It reminded her of all she had treasured.
You don’t want to be starving like them, right? This village once was proud. Now it is in ruin...
It reminded her that she had nothing to lose.
Come with me, and I will show you... The faerie held out a hand, patiently waiting for a response.
Amelia wearily looked at the outstretched hand.
She took the hand, and allowed it to pull her up.