On a small cliff in the middle of the Haunted Woods sat a small orphanage, so small it didn't even have a name. No one inside the little building felt anything other than grumpy, tired, or tearful. The ones who weren't awake to watch the un-seeable sun rise tossed and turned fitfully, plagued by nightmares. And no one felt like they would ever get out.
Calli sat on the window sill, staring out the window as raindrops flew by. She tried to remember the last time she had seen sunlight, but wound up just wondering if she ever had, or if it even existed. The small blue Shoyru turned around and watched her baby sister sleeping in a cardboard box. It was as close to a cradle as she could get.
Footsteps echoed in the hall outside their shoe-box small room. Callimar jumped to the floor and curled up as if asleep just as the door creaked open. A surly Kougra poked his head inside, grumbling unintelligibly before bellowing, “Get up!”
Calli shot to her feet as Nala began to wail uncontrollably.
“And shut her up!” the nameless manager growled. “We have a visitor.”
He left the orphan stunned as he slammed the door shut. Calli stood in the middle of the room for the succession of three more wake-up calls and banging doors (the Kougra was even angrier if you were already awake) before she finally moved to pick up her sister and rock her slowly back and forth.
A visitor, she mused as Nala quieted. I must be dreaming. She had lived in the orphanage for almost all of her eleven years, deposited there with two-month-old Nala when she was one and barely out of her baby-hood. Something about the cold-hearted surroundings of the orphanage had stunted her little sister's growth, something Calli deeply resented.
But no one had ever come to look. No one had shown any interest, even when more pets arrived. Calli had come to doubt if anyone besides the cruel owners who had abandoned the pets even knew the place existed. The orphans were confined to their so-called rooms, so the only reason the Shoyru knew that new pets arrived were the cries and desperate pleading she sometimes heard down the hall.
Callimar kissed Nala's head and set her down on the floor. Normally, she would have sat down beside her to wait out the endless monotony and ignore the gnawing hunger in the routine she had used every day for ten years, but now she paced restlessly, not daring to give in to the hopelessness that had wallowed inside of her for so long, but not daring to hope that she might have a chance to leave either.
They'll never pick us, she thought, just two simple Shoyrus. But what if they do? No they won't. But--
This constant vicious circle cycled through her head for the next ten minutes, not even broken when she heard voices down the hall, which really was all the orphanage was, and the continued footsteps that grew closer and closer.
Then the door opened, not with a bang as it rammed the opposite wall, not with a creak when it opened just enough to let a head in, but wide open, the perfect amount for two figures to come in, on hinges that seemed freshly oiled. The scent of coffee and slightly stale chocolate chip biscuits wafted in along with the manager and a girl with lustrous auburn hair cascading down her back like a waterfall.
Calli snatched up her sister as if to protect her and covered the baby Shoyru's nose with her paw, not wanting her to smell the food that had been kept from them for ten years. The golden-haired girl gasped and rushed forward to peer at Nala, who looked like a rather large lime in polka-dot pajamas. She reached out, then drew back her hands when she saw the blue Shoyru tighten her grip on the baby.
“I'm sorry,” she said, staring into Calli's face. “Can I hold her?”
At the manager's warning look, she handed over her little sister, with a mixture of fear, defiance, and pain in her eyes. Nala laughed and rubbed her head against the girl's black sweater. Calli frowned.
“What's her name?”
Callimar opened her mouth, but the Kougra cut in, as if the Shoyru didn't even know her own sister's name. “Nala, Miss Layla. Nala Skysong.”
“That's a beautiful name,” Layla murmured, bouncing her up and down.
Then she stepped back and looked Calli over, took in the weariness in her limbs, the desperation in her gaze, heard her stomach growling. “Oh, you poor thing,” she whispered almost inaudibly.
Layla turned to the manager, who spoke before she could open her mouth. “They're sisters, Miss, Callimar and Nala Skysong, adoption fee each fifty neopoints.”
Callimar balked and earned a glare from the Kougra. Fifty neopoints? Where they worth so little? The girl smiled and swept a curtain of hair behind her ear. “I'll take them--”
“One adoption only, Miss Layla. Rules of the orphanage,” the Kougra interrupted.
Calli froze. What? she thought, her mind moving sluggishly. No... she can't... She sat down on the floor with a soft thump, eyes wide, unable to will her limbs to move. She watched the girl arguing with the manager without really seeing, heard her baby sister cry out fretfully without really hearing, smelled the continuous scent of the coffee and chocolate chip biscuits the Kougra had served the girl without really smelling.
Then, before she had time to comprehend what she was doing, she had lunged to her feet and was sprinting forward. She grabbed Nala and head-rammed the Kougra, shoving him all the way to the opposite wall. And then she was running down the hallway she had never expected to see. Her heart pounded in her ears. Nala was crying. She was developing a cramp in her side.
“Get back here!” the manager yelled, having recovered his breath.
Callimar felt a paw close around her wing and she was jerked to a stop, right in front of the doors. Nala was tugged out of her arms and handed to a breathless, protesting, auburn-haired girl in jeans, whom he ordered a large Tonu to push to the entrance.
“No!” Calli screamed. “You can't take her away! COME BACK!!!”
Rage and pain collided inside of her, twisting her stomach until she felt sick. She clawed at her captor's face, kicked and bucked and wailed, but to no avail. This wasn't happening! But the doors were already drifting closed, and then she saw Nala's face and shot into a memory.
The sun was shining down on a meadow filled with tall grasses and flowers, edging them golden. A little stream burbled past the edge, a border between the forest and the field. Nala was scrambling and sliding on a rock, wet from little splashes of water from the spray. She made a small, excited noise somewhere between a squeak and a laugh.
Callimar looked up from her book to see her little sister pointing at a rainbow arcing across the brook like a bridge. She smiled. “That's nice, Nala.”
Even though barely a year old, she was extremely intelligent. The blue Shoyru went back to her book, until she heard a thump and a yelp of pain. She dropped her book and flew over to the baby, who had slipped off the damp rock into the grass. Calli rocked her sister back and forth and wiped away tears as their owner rushed to them, embracing them both in a huge hug.
They were all laughing and smiling and happy.
After that, time meant nothing to the small blue Shoyru. She was numb and silent, and after the first flood of hot tears, she sat on the floor in the middle of the room and didn't move. She heard and saw nothing, she scarcely even breathed. The only thing real to her was the overwhelming loneliness and sadness inside.
Her sister had meant everything to her. Nala was her purpose for living, the reason she made herself get up every morning and go to sleep every night. Her sister had been her drive, had fed her love and assurance, had soothed Calli to sleep when she rocked her. The baby Shoyru had helped her through the days when she thought she might not make it.
Nala had been the only thing she still had, someone to love and cherish, a companion through all the hard times. She didn't have food or water or books or toys, but she had had her sister and her will to live, and now she didn't have either.
Months passed. No new pets arrived, nor potential owners. Callimar sat on the floor day after day, watching her life flick by in a meaningless blur. She no longer slept or climbed up to the window sill to try to make out the sun setting and rising behind the dense, dark forest or to stare at the trees and pelting rain. The manager soon stopped checking in to wake her up. All she did was mourn and push away the small black coal of hate and pain in her stomach.
Then, one year later, on a day that started just like any other, with no meaning or hope, there was a tap on the window high above where she used to sit and watch the land. Slowly, the small blue Shoyru moved her head around, her first action in a year. A cry of joy slipped unbidden from her lips, and a painful hope made her chest tight.
Hovering outside the glass was a little baby Shoyru with circles under her eyes, tear tracks across her cheeks, and an expression of happiness on her face. If Nala had been a Mallard, bubbles of joy would have burst from her mouth. Calli leaped up, then held herself back. What if she was hallucinating? What if she had finally fallen asleep, and it was all just a dream? She slapped herself and a wide smile spread across her face like a ray of sunshine.
In dreams, you never remembered to slap yourself.
Moving quickly, she slung the cardboard box under the window and climbed up on top of it. She placed her paws on the sill and hoisted herself up until she was sitting on her knees, face pressed against the glass. Nala flew out of the way, and Callimar thrust the window open. Her sister cannoned into her arms, and Calli let of a cry of jubilation.
Tears leaking from the corners of her bright blue eyes, she felt the love and warmth she had missed for so long oozing out of her baby sister and into her like honey off a spoon.
After the bone-crushing, heartfelt hug was over, Nala flew to hover outside among the leaves on the trees again. A wild, excited look in her eyes encouraged Calli to flap her wings. She felt so proud of her little sister, her baby sister that had learned to fly. Her face fell. No matter how hard she flapped her wings, her feet wouldn't lift from the sill.
The baby Shoyru danced upward, eyes lighting up. She flew skywards and disappeared for a confusing moment. Then a branch was pulled out of the way and a ray of glorious sunshine filtered through the trees, bounced of the floor, and pierced Calli's heart.
The Shoyru suddenly shot up, wings defying the very air, moving like a bullet through branches and leaves until she was above the depressing orphanage, above the dreary Haunted Woods, up high above all of her worries and sadness.
“I'm flying!” she screamed triumphantly.
She grabbed Nala's paws and whirled her around and around in circles, dizzy with delight, reveling in the light of the sun, and in that moment, it was all gone. Eleven years of misery, erased in the blink of an eye.
She could fly!