Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part One
This is the sequel to Chronicles of the Shadow Princess I: Truth and Lies. This story would make more sense if you read the first series. For those of you who enjoyed the first one, I apologize sincerely for taking so long with the second installment.
An icy wind whipped past the trees under the clear night sky. The moon hung, large and cold, above the dark forest. A thin layer of powdery snow lay like a sheet across the ground. A lone Albat sat in a hollow beneath a bare tree, shivering against the cold.
A sudden noise made the Albat look around suddenly, eyes wide. A hungry predator? It puffed up its feathers in alarm.
But the figure that approached was not a predator. It was a young shadow Lupess. The Albat watched the figure warily.
The shadow Lupess was draped in a dark blue cloak with purple trimmings. She had a small satchel hanging on her back. A silver glint around her neck caught the Albat’s eye. It was a sapphire necklace. The Lupess looked all alone at first, but it heard a croon coming from behind the cloak hood. The Albat saw a pair of orange eyes behind the hood that were peering back at it. Startled, the Albat scurried deeper into the small hollow.
The shadow Lupess kept walking, barely noticing the cold. Besides one lone companion, she felt all alone. However, she did feel the grim satisfaction of successfully escaping her home and avoiding any chance of being found. She had completed the first step of what was sure to be a long journey.
The Lupess’s name turned out to be Dawn. She had managed to escape her father’s castle a mere three nights ago.
Dawn stopped, stretched, and lowered her hood, revealing the pair of orange eyes to be a black Gallion. She placed the Gallion on the ground beside her, reached in her satchel, and produced two strips of cured meat.
“Here, Shade,” she said, tossing one of the strips to the black petpet. The Gallion named Shade snapped it up quickly, though looking slightly dismayed. He grumbled a bit and sighed.
“I know, I know. You want real food. Well, we’ll stop at the next village to get something fresh, I promise,” she said, tearing her strip into small chucks and eating them one by one.
Although she had chosen to go on this arduous adventure, she too was feeling a bit homesick. But she had made a promise to herself and her father that she wouldn’t return until her mission was fulfilled. Her mission, of course, was to find her mother, whom she had thought to be dead for nine years.
Her father had told her for years that her mother had died while on a voyage to Mystery Island, and he had just recently revealed to her that her mother, Aura, was truly in hiding from unknown identities who wanted her out of power. She was set on heading to Terror Mountain, which was where her father had said Aura had fled to.
Dawn looked around, observing her surroundings. It was late evening, and the cold was more pronounced than ever. She yearned to build a fire, but she hadn’t been able to pack a hatchet. A small book of matches was all she had, but the forest was well cleared of any dead wood and kindling she could use.
She hadn’t been thinking of the cold at all, but now that she had stopped, it seeped through her cloak like water.
“We can’t be too far from the next village,” she said, peering ahead. “We’ll stop there for a small diner before searching for shelter.”
Shade snorted in agreement, tired and stiff from crouching behind Dawn’s hood for so many hours. He stretched once more before he clambered into her arms and once more took his position.
Dawn finally saw a faint glimmer between the dark trees, signaling her approach of the town. It was the last town before Brightvale. Her stomach lurched with hunger for juicy food.
Just minutes later, she entered the small village. She wasn’t really noticed much, even though her cape would be considered a bit luxurious for such a small place. Her dark fur helped her to blend in with the darkness, so most eyes of the late crowd passed over her easily.
She caught a fire Shoyru by the sleeve as he passed by, apparently heading for home.
“Excuse me, would you happen to know where I can buy a hot meal? I’m on my way through here and I need to rest,” she said kindly, but alert.
After a moment, he nodded, and pointed down the road. “Nowhere else has food as fine as The Gallion’s Horn. Fine souls gather there after a hard day’s work. And not to be rude here, but you look like you’d be needing it,” he said with an equally friendly smile. “You’ll be seeing it quite easily, by the sign.”
Dawn thanked him and went on her way. Just a few buildings down, a nice place stood with a wooden sign hanging over the window. A bright Gallion was painted colorfully on the sign, and two pieces of wood, whittled to look like a pair of twisted Gallion horns were posted over the doorway. Shade hissed slightly at the painting.
“Shush, Shade,” Dawn reassured him. “It’s not real.”
Dawn pushed open the door, feeling a flow of warm air wrap around her. She entered The Gallion’s Horn and surveyed the place. It wasn’t incredibly full, but the atmosphere was friendly as she heard the soft babble and occasional laugh from others sitting at the circular tables. One Halloween Kougra stared at her with piercing yellow eyes, but said nothing. His eyes unnerved her. Looking away, she took a seat at a chair in a deserted table.
“What would you like, Miss?”
Dawn looked up, feeling a slight pang at being called “Miss”. A cheerful-looking red Korbat smiled at her.
“Ermm.... I’d like some beef stew and a nice hot mug of Starberry Cider, please,” she replied wearily.
Just minutes later, her order was placed in front of her. She picked a few select chunks of beef out of her stew and put them in front of Shade, who had crawled out of his hiding spot. Dawn had finally relaxed, as the Halloween Kougra with the piercing eyes had left. She was keeping a sharp ear, eavesdropping on the locals.
“Did you hear that old Edwin was robbed almost half of his crops?” one Usul gossiped to a Yurble.
“Really? Mr. Johnson’s cellar was also recently broken into. We’ve been having a fair bit of thievery going on around here, eh Mable?”
“Y’know, I was just offered a job in Brightvale a mere few days ago. A good steady job that I’m to start in the spring,” a blue muscular Bori said to a group of friends.
“I headed to Meridell ‘bout a week ago with my family. I took along my Whinny o’ course. Anywho, I took ‘er down to the Symol Hole. And you know how strong that Whinny is. Tough as a Tonu. She brought up this massive ol’ shield. I hocked it an’ made ‘bout thirteen thousand Neopoints. So we can rest easy through the winter,” an older Meerca stated proudly, leaning back in his chair.
Dawn listened carefully to each of these stories. Taking a sip of her hot cider, she sighed. Good. No news from the Everard’s kingdom. That means her father hadn’t raised any alarm about her disappearance.
“What about ye, Ma’am?” a blue Skeith said to her out of nowhere. Dawn jumped slightly, being addressed so suddenly.
“Ye aren’t from ‘round ‘ere,” the Skeith said affably. “I can tell from yer clothes and yer little companion there. Few from ‘round ‘ere don’t wear such fine clothing or have such expensive pets. Ye be from a more prosp’rous place.”
“Oh,” Dawn said warily. “Yes, I’m not from around here.”
“Ah. Where are ye from and where ye be goin’?”
“Well, I’m coming from a town south of here. I’m heading north to... to get supplies for my family. We’re running short on some things that we can only find in Brightvale,” Dawn lied, though she did it with ease. She was starting to get used to lying, although she was partially ashamed to ever admit it to herself.
“Ah,” he said again. “Many are takin’ that journey this winter. This harvesting season wasn’t the most lavish. Well, good luck to ye on your journey. It’s a bit dangerous for a lass yer age to be traveling all by her lonesome, but ye look pretty tough.”
Dawn soon left The Gallion’s Horn, leaving a nice tip on the table. She shivered as the cold air rushed at her. Shade had been rather reluctant to depart from such a warm, comfortable place, but she managed to convince him to return to her hood. However, she was unsure of what to do. The tiny inn in the town was full of other travelers heading to Brightvale to get supplies, just as the Skeith said, so they had no room for her.
The only thing she could think of was to keep going. But her paws were sore, and she couldn’t skip sleep tonight. She was far too weary to do that and be able to continue on in the morning. She shook her head. She had to find a place to stay for the night.
Unknowingly, her paws took her to the outskirts of the town, to where farms lay scattered over plots of land. The farmhouses were mostly darkened inside, some having a coil of smoke curling up from their chimneys. Some had small sheds a ways away from the house. Probably for storing crops, like she heard at The Gallion’s Horn. Then she realized something that brought a grin to her face.
“Crop sheds. We can probably stay in one of those tonight,” she said to Shade with a whisper. “And then we can leave early in the morning before they wake up.”
She kept a sharp eye for a house without smoke rising from the chimney or lights on in the windows. Because even if the windows were dark, the owner could be sitting in front of the fire for light. Finally picking out a house where she was certain that the occupants were sleeping, she crept up to the shed. No lock. A good sign. She eased the door open, aware to stop should it make a sound. Escaping her father’s castle gave her experience.
She slipped past the door once it was open wide enough to allow her through. Lighting a small candle, she looked around at the shed. Cold air could be felt easily in here, since there were thin slats between the planks of wood that made up the shed. It kept the crops cold and refrigerated, greatly slowing the process of decay. The shed was half empty, with just a few crates here and there. She remembered the Skeith saying that the last harvest wasn’t bountiful.
She placed the candle on a crate of raw potatoes and sat down, leaning against another crate. She figured she’d go long before sunup, and she’d leave behind a small bag of Neopoints, to thank the owners- whether or not they had been aware of her presence.
As she was about to take out her blanket, the door of the shed slammed open. The candle went out in a breeze of icy air, and the moon was blocked out by a tall dark figure standing in the doorway.
She looked up at the Halloween Kougra, who glared back down at her with piercing yellow eyes.
To be continued...