Shadows: Part Three
Mae stepped inside the home with a grim look on her face. She was drenched from head to toe, and it seemed that her clear raincoat hadn't provided that much shelter from the bulleting rain. Outside, bolts of blue lightning simultaneously darted through the black, cloudy sky of the night. Thunder boomed like a powerful drum echoing into the Gelert's ears as she dragged her worn Wellington Boots into the kitchen. With ruthlessness uncharacteristic of her, she kicked the boots outside, slipped off her soaking raincoat and threw it out into the storm, then slammed the door shut so hard that the old house shook in fear.
The Gelert trembled as she held the cardboard box under her arm. It was more of a soggy cardboard box now, but she was assured that the contents were at least partially alright. Murmuring gibberish under her breath as the thunder rolled above, she carefully placed the box on the table and opened the soggy flaps. Inside lay a surprisingly dry, full piece of Altadorian Sun cheese. She smiled toothily at the treat.
Then she remembered.
"Tim," the ten-year-old Gelert breathed, instantly darting into the hallway and down the hall to the last room. Bursting inside, she wasn't surprised that Tim wasn't in sight. The room was dark, as usual. The two depended on natural light and moonlight to see; without it, they had to depend on what few candles they could afford. A white pile of wax sat on the side table, with a yellow flame dancing on a short stub of a wick...
Mae checked under the sheets, in the closet, and even in the toy chest for her little brother... but nothing. It was only when her wet pink tail began banging in anticipation on the floor as she cried her brother's name that he recognized her.
"Mae?" a tiny voice echoed from under the bed.
Mae let out a sigh of relief as she got onto her knees and peered under the bed. How had she forgotten to check there? Tim was huddled under, hugging himself, his emerald eyes filled with fear and angst, as they usually were.
"Tim? What are you doing under there?"
"I... I thought the shadows couldn't find me here."
Mae gritted her teeth. Of course he'd pick one of the darkest parts of the room to hide from the shadows. However, despite her chagrin, she forced a small smile. "C'mon, Tim, I'm here. I'll protect you from the shadows. Oh, and I have a delicious treat for you in the kitchen, so you have to come out and get it." When Tim didn't budge, the Gelert stood up and backed away slowly. Her paw touched the doorknob and she made a point of turning it very, very slowly, so that Tim could hear its eerie creak.
"Oh well," she said loudly, "I guess I'll just have to eat it myself..."
She stepped into the hallway and began to close the door, but a tiny brown Ixi slid through the closing crack and wrapped his arms around Mae's left leg, eyes wide.
"Don't eat it all," he squeaked.
Mae smiled and scooped the eight-year-old into her arms as she walked towards the kitchen. He was startlingly light, but Mae knew it was probably because he ate so little. In the kitchen, she gently placed him down in a chair and sat next to him. Tim stared, intrigued, at the cheese.
"It's Altadorian Sun Cheese," Mae said, her smile slurring into a slight frown. "Olivia... gave it to me." Tim's eyes widened.
"That's what the sun looks like?" he asked, agape.
Mae paused. "Yes, I suppose so," she said. Lifting a knife, she readied herself to cut off a piece, but Tim interrupted her.
"Wait!" he cried. "I have an idea. So... the sun is yellow and orange, right? And not only that... but sun casts sunLIGHT. Light... lights makes shadows and darkness go away... Altadorian Sun Cheese? This must be from Altador..." Mae soon realized that her brother was, no doubt, talking to himself. "...So in Altador... there must be lots of light, right?" He brightened in a way Mae hadn't seem him do so in a long time.
"Mae!" he practically shrieked, "I'm going to live in Altador!"
Mae frowned. Altador was an expensive place, and far away, and she had no intention of ever leaving the Haunted Woods... and if HE did, she would be all alone... but she decided not to quell Tim's spirits. She smiled dutifully and began to cut off one of the rays of the sun cheese.
"Cool," she said.
Tim didn't speak for the rest of the meal. The cheese was delicious, but Mae decided that they should only eat half and save the rest for later. She placed the cheese into a dry cardboard box and placed it into one of the cupboards, but when she turned around she noticed that Tim was staring at her with his wide, emerald eyes. She felt a chill go down her spine at his steady, unblinking gaze.
"What?" she asked uneasily. Tim didn't reply right away.
"How was your visit to Olivia's house?" he asked. The question was surprisingly polite - and ordinary. Mae smiled; it was nice to not hear something shadow-related for once. However, the smile was quickly replaced with a grim, almost menacing frown at the mention of Olivia.
"It was wonderful. Olivia's doing fine," she replied sharply, with an added edge to her tone. Tim didn't seem to notice. She tried to force the memories away, shatter them into pieces and toss them into the garbage... she tried to forget knocking on the front door, peering past glass windows to get a glimpse of the house's interior, stepping -
"Is Olivia still sick?" Tim asked, his voice suddenly tiny. "She's been sick for a while, hasn't she?"
Mae's mouth curled into a crooked smile. "She's doing fine," she replied, although her voice sounded like it was miles away, "In fact, she's doing wonderfully." Tim didn't notice the twisted irony in her voice as she spoke; he was just too young, and too innocent, to notice such things.
"It's getting late, Tim," the Gelert remarked. "You should go to bed now."
The Ixi didn't protest. He hopped off his chair and headed towards the door that led to the hallway, murmuring a quiet "Good-night" as he made his way.
That night, Tim slept with surprising easiness; thoughts of living under the warm sun in Altador were enough to push away the shadows. However, Mae was not blessed with the same easiness. Her visit that day to Olivia's house kept flooding back to her, and all she could do was shove them away, and try to forget.
It happened slowly. Mae's relentless attempts to forget eventually caused her to actually forget, but not just her visit to Olivia's house. Little, important things were forgotten as well; like constellations, and favorite colors, and what her brother's name was... it all happened slowly, but after Tim left, without someone to help her remember, the process was sped up. She forgot big, important things, where she lived... who she was... her own name. Olivia, Tim... they were all stored in the back of her brain, only to be reached out for when she thought she needed them.
She thought that it felt so sweet... to forget...
The Xweetok was blissfully unaware of everything and everyone around her. Even though Caleb, her most faithful apprentice, was constantly visiting her, it seemed like he never came. Time was only an illusion that mattered nothing to her. She gazed intently into the crystal ball as, once again, Caleb opened the door and came stumbling inside, clutching another scroll in his hand.
"Madame," he said, "I have a letter from Darigan. He's still kind of upset that you have this huge, magical, invisible castle floating so close to the Citadel. Who knew the Darigans had such a keen sense of magical presences."
"Oh, that silly matter. Why does he keep bothering me so, Caleb?" The Cybunny did not reply. "No matter. We'll just move the castle over a little more; it only takes a fraction of my magical power and a few of my best apprentices to move it, including you, of course, Caleb. There's no need to debate with Darigan over the subject; after all, there is also no need to go to war with the Citadel and make our whereabouts and very existence known to the rest of Neopia, hm?"
Caleb blinked. "I suppose so, Madame," he replied. "And by the way, Madame... what was the last time you ate?"
The Xweetok smiled and returned her attention to the crystal ball. "Aren't memories... and remembering... such wonderful things?..."
"I guess," Caleb said confusedly. "Madame, you've been a bit... out of it lately."
"Have I?" the Xweetok asked cluelessly. "Well then, that can't do, can it? I'll just make sure that I'm... 'in it' more, then." She smiled and continued to gaze into her crystal ball.
Caleb sighed, turned on his heel, and left the Xweetok to continue to gaze at whatever she was so busy with.
To be continued...