In The Shadows: Part One
She was out there. He could sense it with his deep, Lupe instincts. Even though it had been months, Katerina was there, deep in the Haunted Woods. Why, he might not know now, but he would. He swore to himself that he would spend the rest of his life getting his sister back. She didn’t run away, like those blasted Defenders of Neopia concluded. Katerina would never, EVER, run away. He would prove all of those people wrong... Katerina was still alive, and he would save his sister-
The camouflage Lupe, who was curled up against the trunk of a sickly skeleton-like tree that was growing just inside the perimeter of the famous Haunted Woods, lifted his head at the call of his name. He then sighed at the sight of a familiar yellow Zafara.
“Marx! I thought you were supposed to be AT HOME!” Farah crossed her arms. “You honestly shouldn’t get caught up in this. Katerina is probably just never coming back-” She bit her lip, realizing she had gone too far.
Marx bared his teeth as he pounced up. “Don’t even SAY that she’s gone! Katerina is still out there! I’m so sure, I’ll bet my life on it!”
Farah’s stunned face turned sympathetic. This was the first sign of emotion that her closest friend had shown ever since his sister’s disappearance. It seemed like only yesterday when she had rushed to his house after the news about Katerina spread. Marx used to be so energetic and outgoing. But now that the tragedy had fallen, he was a completely different person. “Marx... I’m so sorry...”
“It’s all right.” he snapped, circling the tree that he was resting against before. “But do you believe me? That... Katerina is still alive?”
It took Farah a few seconds of deep thinking, something that she was not the slightest bit fond of since her personality was basically just blurting out random responses no matter how insane they would be. But deep in her heart, she trusted Marx. “Yeah, I do believe you.”
“Good.” Marx gazed into the Haunted Woods. “Then we’re going to find her.”
Farah’s throat became dry.
The Lupe craned his neck in question at his friend, who looked like she just saw Jhudora turn an innocent baby Aisha into a mutant. “Farah? You ok? Farah?”
“AREYOUCRAZYWEAREGOINGTOGETLOSTOUTTHERE!” With that, the wind howled through the night sky, allowing Farah to have a reason to scream and dodge behind a tree.
“We aren’t going to get lost.” Marx shook his head and bounded towards the Zafara. “We’ll get Katerina back!”
Farah didn’t want to admit her uncertainty or that, in fact, she was absolutely petrified of the Haunted Woods, even though she always bragged to everyone that an Angelpuss was scarier. “And... if Katerina is nowhere to be seen...?”
“Then there isn’t a point of staying here anymore.”
Farah gulped as Marx took off into the woods, determined to find his sister. She glanced back at the road that led away from the woods, took a step towards it, and then sprinted after her friend.
They did not see the shadow follow them.
“A Gangee? Why the heck do I need a GANGEE for a transformation potion? Of all things!” Sophie muttered under her breath, clutching the list in her hands so hard that it almost ripped completely in half. “Those creatures annoy me! Always have, always will! I prefer Meowclops.”
Her little Meowclops growled in pleasure as it gleefully followed its master.
The Swamp Witch snarled to herself, prodding around the Haunted Woods forest close to her home. This was her routine... if she had some sort of potion that was frustrating her, she would walk around aimlessly for a few hours in the Haunted Woods, cursing under her breath about why life had to be so difficult. This normally cleared her mind, allowing her to become much more determined than before to finish the potion.
A twig snapped, and Sophie looked up, alert. Her Meowclops arched its back and hissed.
“Zak, what do you see?”
“Just your fat head!”
Sophie and her Meowclops let their guard down, disappointed that it wasn’t someone worth putting up a good fight against. They curiously waited, however (few would venture this far into the unknown... apparently people were quite afraid of Sophie’s infamous temper), until in view were a red Korbat and Techo, both wearing tacky matching Yes Boy Ice Cream t-shirts.
“Hey, you’re SOPHIE!!” the Techo exclaimed.
“Uh huh.” Sophie rolled her eyes. “Can I help you freaks out?”
“Derain, she called us freaks! THE Sophie called us freaks!” The Korbat named Zak flapped his wings ecstatically, and his Techo friend Derain nodded happily in approval.
“Well, this is just bizarre.” Sophie cocked her staff up into the air and had the sudden urge to recite a spell. “If you two losers don’t scram, I’ll turn you into soot.”
“She’s going to put spells on us! US!” both chimed in.
“All right, that is IT-” Sophie pointed her staff at the overwhelmed newbies, but the list containing the ingredients escaped her grasp and danced away into the escalating wind. “NO! My list!”
“Want us to get that for you?” Derain asked.
Sophie immediately thought of the downright hilarity of these weird neopets jumping up and down, trying to catch a piece of paper. “I’d appreciate that, guys. And when you catch it, go to the Gypsy Camp and give it to me, would you?”
“You know where that is, don’t you? Yeah.” The green witch did an about face, tossing her knotted hair over her shoulders and strolling away with her Meowclops at her side. “I’ll leave you to go hunt. There was this weird little Gangee I saw roaming around at that camp once, and I’m just going to take it. Because I can.”
Sophie left Zak and Derain, who were so hyped up that they did an odd little handshake which involved many gleeful high-fives and fist pounds before bounding into the dark unknown.
They did not see the snickering shadow follow them.
“There it is...” Sophie was hiding behind a rather large caravan, with her Meowclops perched on her shoulders. “There’s that blasted Gangee.” The small Gangee was just sitting there by the open bonfire, watching miserably as the gypsies danced. It shivered and sniffed the air as a breeze enveloped around the circle of caravans and the skeleton trees that loomed over the celebration.
“Now, how to get it...” Sophie thought out loud, gripping her staff. She glanced at her Meowclops, who hissed and blinked its eye repeatedly. “Fine then, DON’T be a decoy!”
The gypsies kept dancing like they didn’t have a care in the world, which made Sophie want to roll over and laugh hysterically. But she was on a mission. The potion she was currently working on was an imprisonment one. She couldn’t really explain exactly what an imprisonment potion was, because after all, demonstrating is always much more fun...
Sophie fell on her back. She glared up at a Zafara, who was point blank mere centimeters from her nose. “I... I... WHO ARE YOU?!” the witch demanded.
“Well, FARAH, how would you like to keep your HEAD ATTACHED TO YOUR PUNY LITTLE NECK?!”
“Quiet down!” Marx hissed as he approached behind Farah. “We can‘t have those gypsies know we’re here.”
“Do you know who I am...?” Sophie gritted her teeth, pulling herself up and dusting off her tattered robe.
“Sophie the Swamp Witch, who has a very famous temper?” Farah smirked.
The Ixi swiftly glided over to her joker, standing her ground. “I can gladly show off my temper for you.”
Marx stepped in between the two. “All right, this can’t go on too far. Excuse my friend, Sophie. My name’s Marx. You see, I have reason to believe that my sister is in that gypsy camp. She supposedly ran away a few months ago and is presumably dead, but I know she isn’t. I just know it. Can you please help me find her?”
Sophie adjusted her witch hat, glaring at Farah the entire time. “What does she look like?”
“She’s a red Acara named Katerina.”
There was a pause. “Ok, I’ll help you. But let me just go on and say that your little friend better watch it. I‘m here trying to get an ingredient for my imprisonment potion that I’m working on, and I‘ll gladly try it out on her first!”
Farah was about to snap something back, but Marx glared at her.
It took a bit of work, but the three finally figured out a plan. Sophie was going to use her Meowclops (who reluctantly agreed to all this) as a distraction to chase the Gangee around where the gypsies were, causing sudden chaos. Marx would then use his agility to make it around the camp unseen, keeping an eye out for an Acara. Farah, however, would keep an eye out behind the caravan with Sophie, who did not have to associate with her in any way whatsoever.
“Come on! I thought you could chase faster!” Sophie muttered to herself in reference to her Meowclops. It was doing an intermediate job (in Sophie’s reference) of attempting to attack the little Gangee. Now, all the gypsies who were dancing came to an abrupt halt and were now either trying to grab the Petpets or dodge quickly out of their way, careful not to get their long skirts caught in the bonfire.
“Hey, Sophie? Who are they?”
Sophie was only paying attention to her beloved Meowclops, but when realizing what Farah was referring to, she did an immediate face palm and groaned.
Derain and Zak were dressed in floral shirts, bright pink flowing skirts with hundreds of glimmering tassels, and shining gold headbands as they approached the circle. They were attempting to produce a rhythm with their tambourines, but all they were creating was unpleasant noise. And to Sophie’s dismay, Derain saw her.
“HEY! HEY, SOPHIE! WE FOUND THE LIST! SEE, WE STOLE THESE DISGUISES TO BLEND IN! ISN’T IT SO COOL?!” Derain jumped up and down, flailing his arms, while Zak waved the list ecstatically. The gypsies, who were so focused on catching the Meowclops and Gangee, stopped in their tracks and looked up at the imposters. The only noise audible was the crackling of the fire.
“I think your friends are mentally insane!” Farah hissed, grabbing Sophie’s arm and pulling her from behind the caravan and to a bush. “Hey... what’s that noise?”
“Huh? What are you-”
They noticed the shadow, but it was too late.
Who the heck are they? Marx was posted behind barrels, watching a Techo and Korbat being escorted off camp grounds by about seven gypsies. Sad...
It was out of the corner of his eye when he saw her.
A red Acara, he was sure of it. The patched brown cloak was pulled almost over her eyes and covered a white blouse and tan, ragged hoop skirt. She was headed straight for the caravan, where Sophie and Farah were supposed to be hiding behind. He knew it was her; he was absolutely sure of it. All the gypsies were busy yelling at the two intruders, so this was his chance.
“Katerina! Katerina!” Marx darted across the camp, being careful not to yell too loud. He reached the Acara, who he grabbed by the shoulders and dragged her behind the caravan.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING-”
Marx covered her mouth with his paw, stopping her just on the top step of the caravan. “Sssshhhh! Katerina?!”
The Acara abruptly gazed up at the Lupe, stunned.
“Katerina, is that you?”
She shook her head.
“What? No, no... you ARE Katerina! I can sense it... Katerina, what‘s going on?!”
She shook her head more violently, and Marx released his paw. “I’m not Katerina... my name is Prancer. I‘ve lived here all my life!” The way she spoke was alarming. It was like she was afraid, more like petrified, to speak to Marx. Her eyes darted back and forth like she was looking for someone.
“No... you’re Katerina, my sister!”
“I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” she murmured, slipping past him. “You’re just confusing me with your sister. I gotta go.”
Marx didn’t even try to stop her.
“...Sophie? Sophie, are you there?”
Sophie woke up and tried to open her eyes and move, but couldn’t. It came to her horror that she was sitting on a cold stone floor blindfolded, and her limbs were bound tightly with rope. “Farah? Where are you?”
“Next to you, I think.” Farah shifted. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Someone grabbed me. I don‘t know who, though; it was too dark to see. They knocked you out, Farah, and threatened that they’d hurt my family if I moved or talked. While they were tying you up, I took my staff and drew out ‘help’... in case Marx saw it. Then they blindfolded me, and I was out cold. ”
“Where do you think we are?”
“By the feel of things, I’d say a dungeon.”
“And who do you think did this to us?”
“Well... honestly... I’m not sure.”
There was a sudden echo of footsteps coming from somewhere. Sophie perked up as they stopped at what seemed to be right outside the room where she and Farah were being held. A door creaked open, and someone stepped inside.
“Who is this?” Sophie demanded.
There was a long pause. “I think you know, Sophie dear.”
The Swamp Witch said nothing.
“Oh, don’t be like that! I understand you’re quite stubborn, though. First I might as well say that shadows do come in handy at times. My, they can knock you out fast!”
“Shut up,” Sophie snapped.
“You haven’t changed, Sophie the Swamp Witch. Not one bit.”
“And I don’t intend to.”
“Sophie...” Farah quavered. “Sophie, who is it?”
The Ixi didn’t say anything.
“Tell her who I am, Sophie,” the voice commanded.
Sophie gritted her teeth. “It’s Eliv Thade.”
Farah almost screamed, but it came out more like a whimper. Eliv Thade, however, cackled. “You two will make a wonderful test run to see how it would be turning neopets into shadows that will serve for me forever.
The door slammed shut, and all was silent.
To be continued...