Shadows: Part Two
The wind howled again, breaking Mae's concentration and shattering her gathered memories into countless shards. She could imagine them falling onto the ground, unarranged, disorganized, and terribly sharp. She wrapped the worn blanket tighter around her body and looked out the window once again, allowing her mind to wander as a glazed look entered her silver eyes. Her gaze slowly drifted upwards to the sky, and it seemed as if the moon smiled at her. The moon was like a king, with the many stars serving him...
Mae bit her lower lip. That sounded familiar. It sounded a lot like... a story... or a myth... or a legend? She remembered that Tim liked those. He liked stories. In fact, Mae was pretty much sure he liked anything that didn't have to do with darkness, or shadows, or sleeping. He hated nothing more than those three things; and it pained Mae more than anything else that he couldn't even enjoy sleeping, which was supposed to be so peaceful. She flinched at memories of him waking up in tears and red eyes, hurt by his nightmares.
He had to be comforted a lot... and he did find stories comforting...
Mae hummed a hauntingly familiar melody as she set up breakfast in the eat-in kitchen. The melody always seemed to float into her memory, yet she could never grasp its origins. Was it something that Ma had sang to her, a lullaby from the early days? Or was it something Olivia had taught her, maybe during those painstaking singing lessons that never amounted to anything? She shook her head. No, it couldn't be that. She thought harder and harder as she poured two glasses of milk and set out two lemon jellies.
As her eyes drifted to the round window, the Gelert was reminded that the Haunted Woods, during the day, was not very different from the Haunted Woods at night. The sky was usually a clear, often cloudless ebony, but the only difference was that, at night, the moon shone and the stars twinkled; however, during the day, the sky was an empty void of ebony. One other noticeable difference was that the temperature rose slightly during the day, but not enough for Mae to favor the day over the night.
When Tim came into the kitchen for breakfast, he was crying.
"The shadows said that they'd eat me, and you, too, Mae!" he screamed, rubbing his eyes with his hooves. Mae frowned and quickly ran over to her brother, scooping the thirteen-year-old into her arms. He was quite immature for his age - and it was all because of those shadows.
"Ssh, it's okay, Tim. You're safe. The shadows won't ever get you. I won't let them."
Mae found herself lifting her little brother into her air and allowing him to rest his tired head against her shoulder while closing his heavy eyelids. He was such a troubled Ixi... Shaking off that thought, Mae settled Tim into one of the wooden chairs and nudged his plate of lemon jelly closer to him. The Ixi gave no notice but to gaze blankly at food.
"Mae," he squeaked as the Gelert sat down.
"Why haven't I ever seen the sun before?"
Mae bit her lip. She didn't know what to say to that. She, too, had never seen the sun before; she had seen it in books and paintings, and had heard about it from Olivia and passersby, but she'd never felt the warmth of sunlight on her fur, or seen beams of gold strike trees or claws or anything.
"Because the sun doesn't rise in the Haunted Woods, Tim. The Woods are ruled by the black sky during the day and the moon at night. You know..." Mae found herself creating a story in her mind, delicately weaving together a tale to tell."...the moon is the king of the sky. His name is Kreludor."
Tim's vibrant green eyes widened. "Really?" he inquired in a small, curious voice.
"Yes," Mae answered with a satisfied smile. "He rules the sky, and the many stars are his servants. Since the night is very long, Kreludor often becomes bored, so he commands his servants to entertain him. Some of the stars sing, others play instruments, others do intricate dances. Anyway, the stars do what they are best at, and it causes them to sparkle, which is why they shine so brightly in the sky at night. This pleases King Kreludor, who, in turn, shines as well, casting beams of silver light to Neopia. But - " Mae paused for dramatic effect. It worked; Tim's eyes instantly widened.
"What?" he asked eagerly.
"Sometimes," Mae said slowly, "a star doesn't please Kreludor, and he becomes very upset. So he sends that star to fall and fall until it vanishes. But as a present to the Neopians, in return for taking away one of the many beautiful stars, he places a blessing on that shooting star. And that blessing is, that if anybody were to wish upon that shooting star, the wish would come true." Mae smiled. Perhaps that story had been more sappy than she had intended it to be, but at least Tim looked interested.
"Wow," he breathed, "Is that true?"
Mae's smile fell. What would she say?
"Yes," she found herself saying, "It's true."
A bright smile spread over Tim's face. Mae hadn't seen him smile like that in a long time.
The small brown Ixi abandoned the lemon jellies to run to the round window. His eyes were wide as he gazed out at the sky, which lacked a moon and lacked stars. The way his eyes sparkled was almost disturbing to Mae, and she found herself shivering at the way he seemed suddenly possessed by a strange eagerness.
"I'm going to find a shooting star, Mae. And then I can wish all the shadows away."
Mae's bit her lip. Why did it all come back to the shadows?
"Come back over here, Tim," she ordered timidly, "and eat. You don't need to become any skinnier."
Tim seemed transfixed on the sky, but he slowly tore himself away from the windowsill and sat himself down at the table. They were quiet for the entire meal, at least until the end, when Tim brought up a topic that made Mae's fur stands on end. She had never felt so hostile before towards her brother as he brought up that one, innocent, curious question, pulled from the deepest crooks of his mind.
"Mae... when's Olivia coming back?"
Mae lifted her empty dishes from the table and tossed them into the sink, where she heard the audible crack of broken glass. Tim jumped in his seat, startled, and gazed with wide, frightened eyes as Mae briskly made her way towards the door that led into the hallway. Each movement was a frosty as icicles and as stony as stone itself, yet it was only as her paw touched the doorknob that she paused and spoke, albeit with noticeable venom in her usually gentle, calm voice.
"She isn't coming back, Tim. I thought I told you that already."
The pink Gelert bit her lip as the memories slipped away. Biting her lip was a habit that she had never been able to lose, but it wasn't like it mattered. Mae let out a sad sigh as the clockworks in her mind kicked into action, reaching for her memories, attempting to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Why was it so hard for her to remember? She knew, as a fact, not a memory, that when she was very little, she could remember things very well. Like others' favorite colors, and the constellations in the nighttime sky when the stars shone, and even the titles of Tim's favorite books. Now... she couldn't even remember her own favorite color.
When had she begun to forget so much?
Ah... she remembered when... and why.
"Madame," Caleb said as he tip-toed inside the Round Room, hoping not to disturb the mage, "you have been spending an awful lot of time in here. The rest of the castle is curious of what actions you carrying out, and why."
The blue Cybunny looked timidly at the mage, who was still gazing with interest into the crystal ball. There was a rather sad smile plastered on her face that Caleb hadn't seen before. But she wasn't smiling at Caleb or anything he had said; she was smiling at the crystal ball. Curiosity spread over the young Cybunny, but he did not let it overtake him. "Madame?" he asked. The Xweetok's eyes flickered over to him.
"Oh, Caleb. What did you say?"
The Cybunny sighed and shook his head. The mage had certainly been acting strange lately; she always listened attentively to her servants and her apprentices.
"Never mind," he said, sounding dismissive. "But really, Madame, what are you looking at?"
The Xweetok smiled. "Ah, my dear apprentice... there are just some stories that should only be known to the characters..."
To be continued...