Shadows: Part One
The Halloween night was still, silent, and terribly frosty. Mae huddled against the glass of the window seat, wincing at the icy touch as she tightened the clutch of the worn blanket wrapped around her neck. The pink Gelert gazed with a curious, cold gaze at the white moon that hung like a sphere in the cloudless sky, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of dazzling stars. A soft beam of moonlight turned Mae's fur silver, and she felt entranced by the dust particles that floated in her line of vision.
Outside, the Haunted Woods stirred in the wake of a strong, chilling wind that whirred at the bare, bony branches of the eerie trees and sent the crisp leaves into a swirling dance. The small house of a certain pink Gelert let out a loud creak of protest at the prompting of the wind, but even the cry of the boards did not disrupt Mae. Her silver eyes, full of moonlight, slowly scanned the room, from the broken toys to the paintings that hung on the greying walls. What a lonely sight.
It was almost impossible to remember the time when her little brother lived with her in that lonely old house, even though it was only two years ago, when Mae was sixteen, that he left. It was almost impossible to remember that warm smile on his face that brightened every day in those dark, Haunted Woods. It was almost impossible to remember the times when that small neopet was able to make life seem fair.
Yet Mae could remember, although each memory was very, very faint...
"Mae! Mae, Mae, Mae!"
The pink Gelert let out a soft, almost inaudible groan at the sound of her little brother's screams. She tossed and turned on her lumpy mattress, then slowly opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling as she got her bearings. Was that her brother calling out for her? Yes, yes it was... With a soft sigh, the ten-year-old neopet slipped off of her bed, listening attentively to its soft, wise creak. She seemed almost like a silver-eyed ghost as she slowly made her way out of her bedroom and down the hallway, moonlight spilling in through the round windows to turn her fur pale, her eyes paler, and her white nightgown almost ethereal.
At the end of the hallway, past the doors that led to empty rooms vacant of furniture, she pushed open the last door. A scream erupted from the room, and Mae found a Von Roo Plushie thrown at her, which, surprisingly, still it had its head in tact.
"AH! MONSTER!" a small voice shrieked.
"Sssh, it's just me, Tim," Mae spoke, softly. She lifted the plushie from the ground and smiled her gentlest smile at a tiny brown Ixi that was huddled under the thin sheets on his bed, his vibrant, emerald green eyes full of fear as his little body trembled. He seemed to relax when he saw Mae, although it was only a little, and, in Mae's perspective, hardly a noticeable difference.
"Oh, it's just you, Mae," the Ixi breathed with relief. "I thought it was the shadows again."
Mae felt her stomach twist. Tim was always talking about the "shadows," strange night creatures that attacked him in his nightmares and shattered his dreams. It was a rare night when Tim didn't wake his sister to save him from the monsters, and then go on and on about what the shadows had done and what they were plotting. Whenever Tim dreamt of the mysterious "shadows," they were just dancing, ebony shapes that taunted him, scheming terrible things and terrifying the Ixi.
"What's with you and these shadows?" Mae sighed. "I'm tired of hearing about them."
The Gelert lightly closed the door, because she knew that Tim would hop from fear if an even remotely loud noise disrupted him. She slowly made her way to Tim's bedside and sat at the edge of mattress that was smoother, and softer, than her own. Her very presence seemed to soothe Tim, and it made Mae happy that she was of some use to her brother, even if it meant not getting enough sleep at night.
"They were hurting me tonight, Mae," Tim murmured, his eyes glazed with fear. "Usually they just surround me and walk in circles, telling me about their horrible plans and telling me how horrible I am. But this time they hurt me. They had these really horrible claws, Mae, and they scratched me and laughed when I gave a shout..." He trembled and his eyes darted from left to right, searching the darkness for shadowy claws and shadowy figures.
"You just see them in your nightmares, Tim. They aren't real," Mae reasoned, as she had done many nights before. The Ixi looked unconvinced.
"Do you promise that you won't let them get me? The shadows, I mean," he said. At first only his body trembled, but suddenly, so did his voice. He hugged himself and shivered, but Mae was unsure whether he shivered from the chill of the house or from the fear of his nightmares.
"Tim - "
"Promise, Mae, promise. You have to promise or I won't trust you ever again."
The Ixi's gaze darted back and forth and finally settled onto Mae's eyes, and as their gazes locked, the Gelert felt herself flooded with pity. All her little brother wanted was comfort, to know that somebody cared about him. She wasn't surprised that Tim was untrusting of others; after all, they were orphans, and after Olivia left... it was Mae's time to shiver. She forced a tiny smile and nodded her head.
"I promise, Tim. I won't ever let those mean shadows get you."
Tim stared at her a while, his expression skeptical, but his face soon softened, and a small smile appeared on his face, as well. He gave his sister a tight hug, and Mae could feel his warmth running through her; tears budded in her eyes at the feeling of trust prickling on her fur.
"You're so kind, Mae. You remind of me of Ma."
Mae's stomach twisted again and her heart leapt. Tim barely talked about ma. As memories flushed back to her, invading her mind and shoving out thoughts, she quickly brushed them away and smiled at Tim again. This time, her smile was not forced; yet it felt automatic, robotic, and empty.
"Good-night, Tim. Sleep tight, and don't let the lightmites bite."
The fear returned to Tim's face, but he relaxed when he thought of Mae's promise, and she knew it. Her stomach twisted again as she slid off of his bed and slowly made her way to the door. How could she keep her promise? How could she protect her little brother from his nightmares and his imagination? Her brother was only eight, so it wasn't like he could fend for himself. The only Neopians he had ever known were Ma, Mae, and Olivia, and all he had left was Mae. Yet she often felt like her responsibility was a great weight...
As the Gelert's paw touched the cold, brass doorknob, Tim spoke.
"Mae, there aren't any lightmites here. There isn't any light here... only shadows."
Mae said nothing. She only twisted the doorknob and stepped into the hallway, lightly closing the door behind her.
The blue Cybunny rushed down the stone corridors of the castle, his brown shoes tapping against the marble flooring. His deep, dark blue eyes glimmered with anticipation as he tightened his grip on the ancient scrolls in his white paws. Moments later, he was eagerly bursting through a pair of silver double-doors to enter what was known in the castle as the "Round Room." The walls and floor were made out of a pristine, white marble that seemed to glow, and every inch of that room had some sort of spell cast upon it. A silver table, constructed of stone, with exactly thirteen legs, sat in the center of the room. A round crystal ball seated on a mystical diamond stand was seated upon it.
Beside the table was an elegant crystal chair worthy of being called a throne. It glimmered of every color of the rainbow, and it was so stunning that it could humble even the most boisterous neopet.
Upon that throne sat a beautiful faerie Xweetok. Her light brown fur gleamed majestically, and her sea green eyes were like jewels. Three silver hoop earrings hung on each of her ears, and countless necklaces of diamonds were worn on her neck. She also wore a gossamer white dress with puffed sleeves, and a stunning elegance to match its simplicity.
As the Cybunny entered, the Xweetok was gazing intently into the crystal ball at a pink Gelert sitting on a window seat. When she saw the Cybunny and the scrolls he held, she smiled.
"Oh, Caleb, thank you. I didn't think you'd finish the job so quickly. Please just place them on the ground right there."
Caleb nodded, and, after placing the scrolls containing ancient spells on the floor, scampered out of the room. The Xweetok smiled and leaned back in her throne, a hint of amusement in her eyes as she gazed at the Gelert.
"And so," she said, "the story begins..."
To be continued...