Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part Two
Dawn stared in fright up at the dark figure of the Kougra. She was frozen in shock.
His yellow eyes were gleaming with anger, and his mouth formed a triumphant smirk. His leathery wings were half-furled, giving his tall, somewhat gaunt shape an eerie resemblance to Lord Darigan. She also glimpsed a blade gripped tightly by his clawed hand. The last image seemed to release her from her frozen body lock.
She plunged her hand into her cloak, grasping desperately for her Thief Dagger.
“Stop,” hissed the figure harshly, extending his arm, pointing his own dagger between her eyes. Shade recoiled behind her head. “Drop your weapons, or I’ll strike.”
Knowing that she had to obey, she unsheathed her dagger and dropped it at his paws in defeat. She tried to look away from his knife-like gaze, but was unable.
“You won’t get away with your deeds this time, thief. I was not stupid enough to fall for your acts a second time,” he snarled victoriously. “You may have stolen most of our crops previously, but you’ll find I won’t be so forgiving this time. I wizened up since you last visited our stores. I had the lights turned off and no fire. In actuality, I was watching you from the bushes.”
Dawn managed to find her voice, albeit it was hoarse and slightly shaky.
“I am no thief,” she said quietly.
“Hah. You make me laugh, rogue. You came back to steal the rest of my crops and finish what you started,” he spat.
“Fine, if you are no thief, then what’s that?” He asked, pointing to her dagger lying at his feet. “A Thief Dagger, if I’m not mistaken. A particularly choice weapon for rogues like you. It’s easy to stow under any clothing and use quickly if cornered. How did you come across one if you aren’t a thief?”
Dawn couldn’t tell the truth here. Ironically, she did steal it from her father’s armory the night she escaped.
“I... I needed a small weapon for protection. I’m a traveler,” she said, compromising between telling the truth and telling a lie. She finally was able to tear her eyes from his intense gaze.
“Then what are you doing here, pray tell?”
“The inn was full, and I needed a place to stay the night,” she said.
“If that was your intent, you could have knocked on the door and asked,” he hissed.
“I- I didn’t want to wake you up and create an inconvenience,” she said, still not looking at his eyes. Really, she wanted as few people to know of her existence as possible.
“Liar,” he said, eyes gleaming. “I saw you in The Gallion’s Horn. I was looking for my thief. And the reason I can tell you’re lying and a thief? You couldn’t look me in the face. Such as you’re doing right now. You filthy lying-”
The Halloween Kougra was cut off mid-sentence by approaching footsteps.
“What are you doing up?” came a soft, yet stern voice.
“I found the thief,” he replied, suddenly sounding uncomfortable.
“Really? Let me see,” the other voice said. The Halloween Kougra hesitated, and then he did so.
A rather petite figure came into view. A Faerie Kougra about half his size gazed at the shadow Lupess, still crouched on the floor of the shed. The new Kougra held a certain resemblance to the other in the spark of yellow eyes, but they were much less harsh. She also appeared to be around Dawn’s age.
“This is the thief?” she asked, almost flippantly.
“I saw her sneak into our shed to grab more food. She also owns a Thief Dagger,” the dark Kougra said, glaring at Dawn again.
“She’s not a thief,” the petite Faerie Kougra said after a minute’s pause. She sounded a little exasperated.
“What?!” he shouted, half angry, half incredulous.
“Well, first off, look at her clothing,” she replied calmly. “Her clothes are too different from ours to have come from here. Not to mention, they’re a bit pricey looking.”
“She probably bought them with the money she made off of our crops!”
“Her petpet too? A black Gallion is worth more than all our crops put together,” she observed.
“There’s been a lot of thievery going on around here. Many others have been stolen from. She probably could’ve gotten it by selling their crops as well. Or stealing him from another farm,” he said, his voice growing louder.
“No, he looks too close to her to have just been bought or stolen recently. And about the clothes: no thief would wear something that eye-catching. They’d wear black instead. Also, there’s a candle on the crate. She wasn’t leaving anytime soon. A real thief would be traveling back and forth quickly to transport the crops,” the petite Kougra finished.
The other Kougra was stunned as well. However, he didn’t seem to keen to give up his theory. His once triumphant smirk was now an ugly challenging grimace. His original majestic fearsomeness was now quite depleted.
“Masque, you can’t tell for sure,” he hissed quietly.
“And you can’t tell for sure that she’s a thief, either. Honestly, you think anyone who’s too intimidated by you to look at you is a thief,” the tiny Kougra responded with a sudden coldness.
The taller Kougra opened his mouth and closed it again. He finally looked away in silence.
“Come on inside,” the Faerie Kougra said. “It’s too cold to continue our conversations out here.”
Dawn followed the two Kougras to the little farmhouse nearby, which now had several lights lit. The Halloween one kept throwing her deeply mistrustful and venomous glances, regaining some of his frightening stature. However, in the presence of the other, he was still much less malevolent-looking. The Faerie Kougra opened the door, and Dawn entered after the Halloween Kougra. She sat in a squishy old green chair. Shade made himself at home on its arm. The other two sat in a couch opposite her. The Halloween Kougra still seemed fearsome, but again, he looked depleted when he sat next to the Faerie Kougra.
“Now, my name would be Masquerade. Masque for short,” the petite Kougra said. “And you’ve already met my twin brother, Gabe.”
“Twin?” Dawn repeated in disbelief. She couldn’t imagine two Neopets being any more unlike.
“Yes, twin. We’re twins. Though it is hard to believe,” Masque said with a wry smile.
Gabe got up from the couch and left, shaking his head and muttering. Dawn looked away awkwardly.
“Don’t mind Gabe,” Masque said. “He’s not the most welcoming person. And he hates to be proved wrong. Now tell me, what’s your name?”
Never had this question been so difficult for Dawn to answer. Finally she decided, “Endrah.”
“Nice name, Endrah,” Masque said. “Where are you traveling to?”
“Brightvale,” Dawn said instantly. “I’m heading there to get my family more supplies.”
“Really? Where are you heading from?”
It was a vague answer and Dawn hoped Masque wouldn’t peruse the subject. However...
“Down south? Where exactly?,” Masque said, examining her with a shrewd look.
“Erm... Well, my father is a wealthy merchant. We travel a bit, but we never come too far north,” Dawn lied desperately.
“Why didn’t he come with you?” Masque asked.
“You heard me, mysterious traveler.”
“He... needed to watch over my cousin. She comes with us, but she’s badly ill. I needed to come alone.”
“Why couldn’t he get her a cure? Or send someone else besides his daughter?”
Dawn mimicked Gabe’s earlier impression of a blandfish, opening her mouth and closing it several times, clearly not knowing how to answer.
“It’s okay,” Masque said, getting up to light the fire in the fireplace. “I can tell you don’t want to reveal much about yourself. But I’m not going to pry. A person’s privacy is valuable.”
“Unless she really is a thief.” Gabe had returned.
“Shut up, Gabe,” Masque said, bristling suddenly. Gabe fell silent.
Dawn had been allowed to use the guest bedroom. It was a very plain room, with just a bed, a nightstand, and a lamp, but Dawn had been very grateful that Masque had offered it to her. Shade had curled up on the foot of the bed and fell asleep instantly. Dawn sat on the bed, appreciating how soft it was compared to the past few nights of sleeping on the hard, cold ground. She turned over and was asleep.
Dawn awoke very early- a habit of hers. At first, she was just content to sit in the warm bed, watching the window. But after a while, a feeling wriggled into her mind and nagged. It started out small, like if something one had forgotten to do and was struggling to remember it. But it grew. It took an hour before it filled every vein of her body, and she finally managed to understand what it was. It was guilt.
Masque had willingly stood up for her several times, protected her, listened to her, and gave her a warm place to sleep. She had trusted her. And here she was, lying to Masque about everything. Her parents had instilled the value of telling the truth in her, and it had come back to haunt her. Dawn got up, hoping to be able to walk the feeling away. She reached inside her bag and pulled out the bag of Neopoints she was going to leave the previous night. She could leave it and go without causing any trouble. She prodded Shade until he was awake enough to get up –willingly or not. She turned and opened the door.
“Oops, you’re already awake.”
Dawn was surprised and speechless, seeing the Faerie Kougra in front of her. It wasn’t just being caught in the middle of leaving, or that the Kougra was awake at such an early hour. In Masque’s hands was a tray with some hot porridge, a slice of Raisin Twist Loaf, and a glass of apple juice.
“I...” Dawn trailed off, aware of the bag of Neopoints clutched in her hand. “That food’s for me?”
“Still here? I’m surprised,” said a sullen voice. Gabe was skulking in front of the empty fireplace. “I thought you’d take off long before now.”
Masque shot a glance at him, and at once he looked away. His spiteful mood seemed to have died down into a grudging mistrust.
“Endrah, come have some breakfast before you leave for Brightvale,” Masque persuaded Dawn, walking over to a wooden table in front of the fireplace and setting the tray of food down. Feeling guilty once again, she tentatively sat down in front of the food, evading the gaze of Gabe. She took a bite of the Raisin Twist Loaf awkwardly.
“Erm, I’m sorry for causing you two an inconvenience last night,” Dawn finally said after eating half the porridge in silence. “I truly meant no harm.”
Silence. Then Masque broke it by clearing her throat and saying, “You said you were on your way to Brightvale. Gabe and I were talking, and we have decided to accompany you there. We need the supplies ever since we were stolen from, and this is the perfect opportunity. And since it looks like you were planning to leave today,” she nodded to the bag of Neopoints, “we could be ready to go today.”
Dawn blinked. How could she be sure the two weren’t in league with those who wanted her mother found and perhaps dead? However, Masque had been kind and hospitable, and though Gabe was bitter, it really had nothing to do with her in particular. And it would be nice to have some company.
“Well, alright then,” she said, slightly uncertain. Masque’s face brightened. Gabe’s was still like a storm cloud, but it seemed to soften slightly.
“Great. Since on seem intent on leaving, we’ll go today,” Masque said. “We’ve already packed our things, Endrah.”
Dawn grimaced at the alias, and she hoped Masque wouldn’t notice. Fortunately, the Faerie Kougra had turned to grab a satchel, which was much like hers.
Hours later, the three had left the village behind. Dawn felt somewhat awkward, but it did beat going alone. Also, since she was with somebody, she didn’t need to travel only during the night. She could pass as a normal shadow Lupess, couldn’t she?
“About how far is it to Brightvale?” she asked Masque.
But it was Gabe who answered, “It’ll take until tomorrow evening. We have a bit of a walk ahead of us.”
“Well, I’ve walked for the past few days, I can stand a few more,” Dawn said determinedly, even though her paws were still sore. Shade snorted, watching Gabe warily from his usual position.
“Where did you get that little beast, anyways?” Gabe said, cocking an eyebrow at the Gallion.
“His name is Shade,” Dawn said, scratching her petpet behind one of his ebony horns fondly. “He was a gift for me from my mother for my sixth birthday.”
“You never mentioned your mother in your story,” Gabe said, with a bit of spite in his voice. “Where is she at the moment?”
“Gabe!” Masque snapped, reproachful. “Don’t pry into her life. And how do you know her story? Were you curious enough to listen in on our conversation last night after you left the room?”
Gabe mumbled something that was indistinct to Dawn. Masque snorted derisively.
That night the three of them stopped to make camp, somewhat stiff with cold and sore from the walking, but pleased with the progress they had made.
Gabe set to making a nice fire while Masque and Dawn tried to gather scattered sticks and twigs that had been blown from the leafless trees. No snow was yet on the ground where they were, which was a blessing, since it was easier to find firewood.
After the fire was steadily eating away at a pile of wood that would last a few hours, the three tried to make themselves comfortable and eat a meager dinner. They bid each other good night, tried to make themselves as warm in their blankets as the fire would allow, then, one by one, they slowly fell asleep.
To be continued...