Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part Six
Dawn took a step back, her paws suddenly slippery with sweat. This wasn’t like revealing her secret to Barty, who she knew was loyal to her father. These two... She had lied to them, and though Masque wasn’t the sort to hold a grudge, Gabe certainly was. She didn’t know what to do and was at a loss for words.
“Why did you lie to us? Taking advantage, were you?” Gabe accused her, standing up.
“First off,” Masque said, putting a paw on his shoulder, “you don’t need to tell us anything, Princess. It isn’t any of our business what a royal family member does, but we would still like to know.”
“Please, don’t call me Princess,” Dawn said, feeling tired all of a sudden.
“What should we call you then, Endrah?”
“No, my name isn’t Endrah. It’s Dawn,” she mumbled.
“Dawn?” Gabe smirked. “Doesn’t go very well with your color, does it now? Dusk is definitely more fitting.”
“You should talk,” Masque said coldly, and Gabe suddenly looked stonily at her.
“Shut it,” he said through a clenched jaw. Dawn chose not to ask.
“As for my reasons, it’s a long story. I’m looking for my mother, the Queen Aura,” the Lupess went on.
“But I thought she was dead,” Gabe interjected.
“She’s not. You see, my parents found out about a group of conspirators who wanted her gone. Dead. Out of power. And so, she and my father organized an elaborate plan to take her far away from the kingdom and out of harm’s way. It was all made to look as though she was killed in a tragic accident, involving a boat being destroyed in a storm,” Dawn went on, still feeling tired.
“Wow,” Gabe said, still looking sour. “Go into hiding? How cowardly is tha-”
Dawn blinked. Masque was on her feet, glaring at Gabe, and for a moment, the Lupess didn’t know who Masque had shouted at. By Gabe’s outraged face, she had shouted at him.
“Don’t CALL me that,” he shouted back hotly, ears flat on his head. His tail twitched in embarrassed agitation. A slight blush had crept across his face.
“Your name is Gabriel?” Dawn asked. Gabe glowered at her furiously, but he also looked like he wanted to crawl away and hide. It was obvious that he had crossed a line with his twin, and she had chosen to stop him by use of humiliation. Red in the face, and refusing to make eye contact with either of them, Gabe sat back on the bed, his arms crossed.
“Please excuse my brother,” Masque said, glaring at Gabe coldly. “He knows little in the affairs of royalty.”
“Yeah, but you have to admit, it is a rather spineless thing to do,” Gabe said, throwing the retort over his shoulder.
“My mother is anything but cowardly. So I suggest you shut up... Gabriel,” Dawn replied, feeling anger course through her.
Gabe flinched and looked at her, mouth agape, and completely stunned. Too stunned to look angry.
“Why don’t you tell us about it? It might help,” Masque offered.
“Well, my mother... My father had to persuade her for weeks to convince her to do it. She hated the idea of leaving me and my father. She was extremely reluctant, but when she agreed to do it, there was no going back. She knew it was for the safety of everyone.”
“But why would they only target the Queen? Isn’t the King in danger, too?” Masque asked, concerned.
“I’m not sure, but I want to bring Mother home. My father’s health is at stake. He’s had a terrible malady for many years, and it all started when he found out about those groups who wanted my mother gone. And since Mother has left, he’s only gotten worse,” Dawn explained sadly. “I have to make my family whole again.”
“So where is she, then?”
“Terror Mountain,” she replied automatically.
“Such a far way away,” Masque commented. “You’re going by yourself?”
“Well, a friend of my mother's. He is giving me his Ganuthor, who knows the way. He insists he’s useful.”
“But still. This means you’re going through the Haunted Woods. With only Shade and a lent Ganuthor. That’s rather imprudent. There could be another option,” Masque thought.
“If you could think of one, then I’d be much obliged,” Dawn replied, sounding exasperated.
“Well, the solution is simple,” Masque said. She looked at Gabe, who was now looking at the both of them. He looked stonily back, but he blinked and sighed. Masque smiled slightly and looked back at Dawn. “We go with you, of course.”
Dawn paused, not thinking she had heard correctly. She looked between them. Gabe looked rather put out, but he wasn’t rejecting the idea. Masque looked positively determined.
“But... But why?”
“Listen, Dawn. It would be trouble for you to go into the Haunted Woods and happen upon misfortune. And though we’ve never been through the Woods, it would be more sensible to go in a group than alone. It always seems that bad things happen more often to single travelers. And you’re a nice person, whether or not you were under a guise. Besides,” Masque grinned. “You shouldn’t be the only one allowed to have adventures. I happen to hate monotony, and this promises none.”
Dawn was pleased that she didn’t call her princess, and Masque’s company would be much nicer than being alone. But she was still concerned. “Are you sure that you want to do this?”
“Trust me,” Gabe said, startling her. He didn’t sound angry. Instead, he looked tired. “Once Masque gets an idea into her head, it’s near impossible to get it out.”
“You’re going, too?”
“Anywhere Masque goes, I go. It’s a twin thing,” he added when Dawn blinked at him.
Dawn found that Gabe was right. Masque could not be swayed. In this, she was resolute. It had been after they had packed, had one last meal at the inn, and were at a fork in the road that Dawn faced the twins.
“Your last chance to leave. I don’t want you guys to get into something you are going to regret later,” she began.
“Ah, shut it. I said I was going. The last thing I want is for my word to mean nothing,” Masque said firmly. Gabe was silent.
Dawn nodded, grateful for the companionship. “Then we must visit my mother’s old friend, and we’ll be off through the Haunted Woods.”
Barty’s house looked just how it had earlier that morning. Smoke still cheerily rose from the chimney, and it still seemed like the place where a kind, yet slightly senile Draik lived. Looks indeed were deceiving.
Barty saw them coming through the window, blinked and stared at the two winged Kougras flanking her, and looked perplexed. But he went outside. Dawn noticed he looked wary.
“Hello, sir,” Dawn said with a smile.
“Who might you be?” Barty asked in a timid sort of voice, reminiscent of his feigned senility. It sounded as though he were addressing all of them, instead of just Masque and Gabe. Dawn realized that he didn’t know whether they were friends or captors.
“Barty, these are my surprise travel companions,” the shadow Lupess said seriously. “This is Masque and Gabe. They’ve agreed to come with me through the Haunted Woods.”
Barty gazed at her, clearly, for a long time. Then he met the gaze of Masque, and finally, Gabe. Gabe stared almost defiantly at him with his piercing eyes, but Barty stared unflinchingly back. Dawn looked on as the two of them eyed each other. Then, Gabe faltered and blinked, and a small smile tugged at Barty’s lips.
“You certainly have strong-willed companions, Dawn. But be sure of who you pick as allies. I am sure of your judgment this time, but you will find that others who wish to follow you aren’t willing to lend a helping hand. Be aware of who you surround yourself with,” Barty said solemnly.
“And what exactly are you trying to imply?” Quick-tempered Gabe was even quicker to take the offense. His eyes flashed. “That I’m untrustworthy?”
“Of course not,” Barty replied calmly. “Only that some will put up false pretenses to get close to someone. Surely a warrior from a Meridellian war can understand such common sense.”
“I n- How did you know I fought in the last war?” Gabe was thrown off guard.
“My dear boy, I did my fair share of civilian fighting, and I was sure I saw a Halloween Kougra and a smaller Faerie Kougra darting through the village that was defending itself from pillage and plunder,” Barty replied with ease. “I am a fair hand at using a pitchfork when necessary.”
The Draik looked back at the confused Kougra, and then chuckled. “But enough. If you were brave enough to fight the war against the spellbound General Kass, then I’m sure you are trustworthy. Wait here.”
Barty turned with a swish of his spiked tail, and returned to the cabin. He was gone for a few minutes, then reappeared, a struggling grey lump in his grasp. It was a very grumpy-looking Gargrin.
“Here. My Ganuthor will lead you. Though he may not be wanting to all that much,” Barty said, releasing the Ganuthor. Gargrin scowled at everyone, then looked away pointedly.
“Are you sure he’ll come with us?” Masque asked doubtfully.
“He needs a little convincing is all,” Barty replied. He kneeled down on the cold ground. “Gargrin.”
The Ganuthor’s ears twitched, but the creature didn’t look at him.
“You are to escort the young princess and her two friends. I know you don’t want to go, but you are the most able. Look at me,” the green Draik commanded sternly. Gargrin looked at him, and Dawn could see the smallest hint of sadness in the petpet’s face.
“The sooner you can manage this feat, the sooner you’ll return to your spot on the mantel. Undoubtedly, which is what you are going to miss most.”
Gargrin snorted indignantly, then he softened and placed a paw on Barty’s knee. He made a low, melancholy warble, and his tail twitched.
The Draik smiled and gathered the Ganuthor in his arms. “And I’ll miss you, too, you silly creature,” he said, rubbing the petpet fondly on the head. “But now you must be off.”
Gargrin looked at him, then sighed, and jumped out of his arms, trotting over towards Dawn. The Ganuthor, now that Dawn looked at him again, was twice the size of Shade, and she could tell he was much older. A scar she had not noticed before was above his left eye. And now that the forlorn farewell was over, she could see a hard determination in the petpet’s eyes. He stared defiantly at her, almost in the way that Gabe had done to Barty.
“He will not fail,” Barty said. But Dawn could already tell.
“Thank you, sir,” the Lupess said fervently. “Any help is well received. I promise that I’ll return with Gargrin. And my mother.”
The Draik nodded sadly. “Then farewell, and good luck to you.”
Gargrin sighed once more, but then he shook himself and purposefully took the lead. The grizzled Ganuthor led the new friends on the northwest trail away from Brightvale. To the Haunted Woods and to Terror Mountain. And to her mother.
Her promise to her father, repeated to Barty, floated through her mind and gave her hope.