Ellie narrowed her eyes, squinting at the horizon where dancing sheets of dust were tossed about by the wind. She gazed one last time at the desolate land, looking for signs of life before she gave up and turned back toward the town.
She was the only one to walk the streets, the only one left unaffected by the catastrophe. As if to emphasize this point, tumbleweed bounced past, mocking her for her failure. She pushed open the door to her home, sat down at her desk and, knowing that she would be the next to go, she wrote a message.
“Get him!” screamed the red-faced Captain as his guards clanked and battered their way up the steep slopes, chasing their quarry. The Captain breathed heavily as his men ran, clanking and crashing, in pursuit of an unknown offender.
Yre held his breath as he crept up behind the Captain with a nice large block of stone. The shadow Lupe aimed his weapon at the back of the Captain’s head and swung. It made a satisfying ‘clunk’ as metal and masonry collided and the red Scorchio crumpled pathetically to the ground.
Yre laughed merrily as he ran on light paws. He had procured enough to survive for another week or so, and now he was bounding off in the opposite direction to the confused guards who thought they’d seen him in the hills and would return, empty-handed, to find a very angry Captain.
Night was closing in fast around him. Yre loved the mountainous regions. Many among Neopia thought it spooky and wouldn’t dare to venture too far from civilization, which made it a perfect hiding place for an outcast-
A crashing sound echoed loudly as Yre was knocked off his feet.
He had run straight into something fairly solid. With a pounding head and starry eyes, Yre jumped up and drew his sword. He squinted into the darkness before him until he saw a dark shape lying on the ground.
Cautiously, he took a step forward and saw, by the dim light of the moon, that he had collided with a spotted Kau. He was on the verge of darting away when she stirred and sat up, gazing at him with what appeared to be placid curiosity.
“Hello,” she said, standing up and swaying slightly.
“Who are you?” he asked sharply.
A puzzled look crossed the Kau’s face. “I’m not sure. Who are you?”
“What do you mean, you’re not sure?”
“I can’t remember who I am.”
Yre was startled at that fact, but even more so by her apparent lack of interest in the matter. She seemed to have accepted her lack of memory without complaint. He continued to stare at her while she simply gazed at him with mild interest, a small smile on her face.
“Do you remember anything?” he asked her.
She shook her head, still smiling oddly. This situation presented Yre with a problem. He could leave her here and carry on with his life or he could help her. She seemed like a small child, trusting and helpless.
That dormant part of his mind that dictated his morals had awoken and would not let him walk away.
Yre beckoned to the Kau and was surprised to find that she followed without question. She trusted him. It suddenly dawned on him that her trust made him responsible for her, something which he found slightly scary. Being an outcast and a thief required him to be cautious at the best of times so Yre found it hard to comprehend the level of trust the Kau was showing him.
He led her over the crest of several large hills until, after about an hour, they came to the caves where he had made his camp the night before.
Yre motioned the Kau to sit down on a cold rock as he fiddled with his tinder box to light a fire. The Kau watched him closely, refusing to blink until the fire was well established. Yre sat down, dusting off his paws, and gazed across the flickering light towards this stranger who had somehow come into his care.
“So,” he said awkwardly, “do you remember anything?”
The Kau shook her head, scratching her upper leg with the ridge of a hoof. Something small slipped from her pocket and fluttered to the ground.
Yre’s sharp eyes caught the movement and, quick as a flash, he darted around the fire and snatched it up with all the reflexes born of his thieving lifestyle. The spotted Kau seemed only mildly interested in him or anything else and seemed less than startled by Yre’s quick movement.
He sat back down and gazed at his newly acquired piece of paper. His eyes fell in disappointment, and he was about to toss the useless thing on the fire when the Kau spoke up.
“Don’t,” she said quietly, looking the Lupe straight in the eyes for the first time.
“It’s just a grubby slip of paper with lots of rips,” he retorted and extended his hand. The Kau jumped up and slapped his hand with her sharp front hoof. Yre was unprepared for this sudden display of fierceness. He yelped, dropping the paper and withdrawing his throbbing paw.
The Kau caught the paper as it floated close to the fire and cradled it safely in her hooves.
“What did you do that for?” he asked, indignant.
The Kau returned to her hazy mood, gazing absently around her. “I don’t know,” she said simply, looking down at the paper and reading its smudged words.
To whoever may find this, we need your...
Something in the Kau’s head was stirring. She remembered this piece of paper being given to her, but she didn’t know when, where or even who had given it to her. She also knew that there was much more to the message than this one line.
“We need your what?” she whispered.
“We?” Yre asked. The Kau handed over the slip of paper. As he read, he noticed the Kau watching him carefully, lest he discard it into the flames. He scanned the page again.
“There’s more,” he said, unfolding the paper carefully. He no longer regarded it as scrap but was now perplexed by it, wondering who had written it, what they needed and why it was in the pocket of an amnesiac spotted Kau.
He read the words aloud to his companion. She seemed to spark with interest, perhaps even recognition.
“Help. Our town is suffering from a...” Yre frowned. “What are they suffering from?”
“How would I know?”
“It was in your pocket.”
“I know that I know about this, I just don’t remember!” The Kau kicked at a stone, all trace of placidness gone, replaced by barely contained agitation.
Yre passed the paper back to her, wishing that he had just left her in the woods. Oh well, he thought, no point crying over secret messages.
Yre shifted into a more comfortable position on the rock and then looked up to see that the Kau was staring at the paper, her body rigid, almost shaking.
“What is it?” he asked her. She screwed up her face in concentration. Yre stayed quiet until she looked up at him.
“Take me back to where you found me.”
“This is a waste of time,” Yre said again as the Kau stood in the moonlight, turning slowly on the spot. She paused just long enough to scowl at him over her shoulder.
“What else is there to do? This is important somehow.” She paused again, thinking. “Which way was I facing?”
Yre thought it best to answer her questions rather than argue with her. Arguing would take much longer and he was missing the warmth of his fire.
“This way.” He put his paws on her tiny shoulders and turned her to face the eastern mountains, behind which lay the Lost Desert.
She bent down and felt the coarse sand underneath her hooves. A small depression sparked another memory and an idea. She turned back toward the west and began to follow the depressions.
“What now?” Yre called, annoyed.
“I’m following my footprints before they get blown away. You don’t have to come,” she added. But Yre felt that he shouldn’t or couldn’t leave her. It wasn’t that she couldn’t take care of herself; she could now that she was not a trusting Kau with memory loss. It was more that she had sparked his curiosity and Yre knew better than to walk away without finding an answer.
The Kau looked over her shoulder and saw him following a few paces behind. “You’re coming, then?” she said and continued on, not waiting for a reply.
The sun dawned, glorious and golden, behind Yre and his companion as they stood in the lee of a rocky outcrop. The tracks left by the Kau led to a more sheltered side of the rocks where there was obvious evidence of a camp. Yre turned over the remains of a small fire with his boot while the Kau inspected the rock.
“So what do I call you?” asked Yre.
“I don’t remember my name. Call me anything.”
“Alright then, anything,” he said cheekily, “what next?”
“There’s writing here,” she said, running her hand over a smooth rock where little black charcoal lines formed a paragraph. Bits of the message had been smudged or had washed away. The two stood shoulder to shoulder and read what was left of it.
We are in the valley of sand near the... between Altador and the Lost Desert on the west side of the mountains. Come quickly. Bring...
The rest of the message was smudged but the Kau seemed certain.
The people in the town wandered about aimlessly. Some had decided to stay indoors and read anything they could in the vain hope of remembering something, while others talked to each other in a vague and disinterested way and the remainder wandered aimlessly around the streets that should have been so familiar.
Noon was fast approaching when two figures appeared through the head haze on the horizon. The Moehog who saw them thought he must be dreaming. It was, after all, high noon and very hot. He walked away and came back to his seat once he had had a drink of water.
The figures were still there, slightly bigger. They were getting closer, and they were not a dream or a vision. The Moehog called out to no one in particular, but many of the townspeople gathered to watch the first interesting and new thing that had happened.
The Moehog began to feel thirsty. The other townspeople also began to feel thirsty. It was getting hotter, the sun was rising higher and the figures on the horizon were getting closer.
The Lupe and the Kau stumbled into the shade of a building on the outskirts of the town, Yre panting and supporting the Kau who was severely dehydrated. The townspeople approached cautiously, wary of these strange new people.
“Water,” Yre pleaded, glancing at the Kau who was barely conscious.
The Moehog rushed over to his porch and came back with a pitcher full of murky water. He poured out a glass and handed it to the Lupe who gently lowered the Kau to the ground and gave her the glass.
She slowly raised it to her mouth and was about to drain the glass when she paused and considered something that she had never considered before now.
“It’s the water,” she said softly. Yre looked down at her, puzzled.
“The water, we all drank it. We dug a new well and we all drank from it.”
“We? You mean these?” he asked, indicating the townspeople.
“Them,” she confirmed, “and me.”
“This is where you’re from?”
The Kau nodded and stood up, placing the glass of untouched water on a nearby window ledge. She began to walk, unsteadily but purposefully, along the main street until she came to a scratched wooden door. She stopped and inspected it. It was familiar and so was the inside of the home when she pushed open the door.
“This is my home,” she breathed as Yre entered behind her. She moved over to one of the windows, below which sat a rough wooden desk. Sitting down on the rickety old chair, the Kau picked up the topmost piece of paper. It was a message.
To whoever may find this, we need your help. Our town is suffering from amnesia. We are in the valley of sand near the foothills between Altador and the Lost Desert on the west side of the mountains. Come quickly. Bring help at high noon.
Signed, Sheriff Ellie of Goldrun
The Kau looked at the message. “I know who I am,” she said.
Yre raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“I’m Sheriff Ellie of Goldrun.”
Ellie stood slightly forward of the crowd of townsfolk who had gathered to farewell the Lupe. She smiled at Yre as he swung his pack onto his bag. Both of them spared a glance for the well which had been filled in with stones.
“I would say keep in touch, but I know you won’t,” said the Sheriff.
Yre cocked his head to one side. “Oh? How can you be so sure?”
“Because you’re an outcast,” she replied simply, “and you can’t write.”
Yre was about to throw something at Ellie but thought better of assaulting a Sheriff. Having read her secret message, Ellie had remembered who she was and that the people of Goldrun had lost their memories.
She had observed that they were most like themselves during the hottest part of the day but something in the water of their new well had triggered the whole fiasco and the heat made the townsfolk drink even more of it.
It had taken only a day for Ellie and Yre to seal the new well and to reopen the old one and by that time, the effects of the water had begun to wear off, enough so that the Moehog, who had first noticed Ellie and Yre, remembered that he was Ferdis, Ellie’s Deputy.
Ferdis the yellow Moehog now stepped forward and presented Yre with a water skin and shook his paw. “Thank you,” he said simply. Yre was beginning to feel uncomfortable and was keen to be away. He nodded and turned his back on Goldrun, heading away from the Western town. He hadn’t made it as far as the outskirts of Goldrun before he heard someone behind him.
“You’re coming, then?” he asked without turning around.
Ellie came walking up beside him. “I’ll walk you to the foothills.”
“I never got a chance to ask you; why did you write the secret message?”
Ellie considered for a moment. “Well, I originally wrote it for others, to send out with messengers in the hope that someone would come to help us, but then I realized that I would be next, so I left the message on my desk and wrote as much of it as I could on that piece of paper I had in my pocket. I left the town and camped the first night, where I wrote some more of the message. When I woke the next morning, I couldn’t remember anything so I just started walking.”
“And the night after that is when we met,” Yre finished for her. They walked in silence for another few minutes before Yre asked another question. “Did you ever send the message out?”
“Well, yes, but when the messengers came back, they were in no fit state to tell anyone who they had delivered it to. They were no longer in possession of the papers, but that doesn’t mean that anyone actually got the message.”
“It doesn’t mean that no one did, either.” Yre added as an afterthought, “Anyone out there could have your secret message, the gateway to Goldrun, and not even know it.”
“Do you think anyone else will visit?” Ellie asked. Yre shrugged and smiled. He turned to face Ellie. She opened her mouth, about to protest, but then Yre did something he had never done before. He gave her a hug.
“I will come back to visit Goldrun,” he said as he let Ellie go, “And you can teach me how to lasso Kaus.”
Yre turned his back and loped joyfully away. Ellie watched him until he disappeared over the crest of a hill before she realized the intent of his last remark.
“Cheeky Lupe.” She smiled.