Shadows: Part Four
Mae shivered on her window seat. A cloud drifted towards the glowing moon, and the Gelert prayed that it would not block out her moonlight. She had long ago run out of candles to light and provide a warm glow for her. Glowing.. glowing... glowing... why did that word seem so familiar to her? It meant - or had meant - some significance to her... Mae frowned and began to reach into the back of her mind for answers - and for memories. It was hard for her to remember, but she had to try...
The Gelert looked around the room, which had been turned silver by the glassy moonlight. Sometimes, if she looked at the contents of the room, it'd help her remember. She could vaguely remember that she wasn't in her own room, but Tim's, which was filled with far more objects than hers... objects full of memories, to remind her of the past. Mae's gaze slid over plushies, toys, and books - ah, books. She carefully scanned the titles and abruptly stopped at one particularl book: Snowy - A White Kougra Story.
Snow... glowing... story... Kougra. Glowing Kougra.
Mae shook with a start. She had just unearthed a memory that she had intended to be buried for forever... she shut her eyes tight, but the memories were flooding over her now, and intensely so. Once crystalline tear budded in her right eye and slowly began to slide down her cheek. It was so cold...
"Olivia," the Gelert whispered.
"C'mon, Tim," eight-year-old Mae yelled over her shoulder, "you're so slow."
The brown Ixi let out an exasperated gasp as he stumbled over a few roots that jutted out of the ground. A weary smile was plastered over his young face, and Mae laughed. The pink Gelert held an armful of dark purple roses, with their silken petals fluttering in the Woods' chilly breeze. Although the thorns poked at the lace sleeves of her white nightgown, she didn't mind; the sweet scent of the roses and their simple beauty was more than enough to compensate for the slight pain.
"It's so dark here, sis," Tim commented timidly. "The shadows are scary, aren't they?" Mae rolled her eyes as she bent down to take a whiff of a few black daises growing in between an old tree's roots.
"Just a week ago you were fine with all the darkness, Tim. And now you keep babbling about shadows and stuff like that. Get over it." She laughed softly as the daisy's petals tickled her nose.
"Yeah, I know, but - "
Mae frowned and glanced over her shoulder at Tim. The small six-year-old was staring intently through the branches of the Woods. She stood up straight and allowed the wind to batter at the skirt of her nightgown. "What?" she asked, looking in the direction that Tim was gazing at. Her eyes widened.
Through the leafless, arm-like branches of the dark-barked trees was an odd, ethereal glow. Mae thought that it was like a star fallen to Neopia, in the eerie color of neon green. Suddenly, an ear-splitting wail echoed through the Woods, causing the two siblings to stagger in shock. Tim instantly rushed over to his sister and grabbed her elbow; she forsook a few roses to the ground in order to grab his trembling hoof. Leaning forward and peering through the branches, she could see that the glow was... moving.
"I think we should go," Mae stated quickly, trying to pull her brother towards their little home. But Tim wouldn't budge. He was transfixed by the glow.
"C'mon, Tim. It might be a ghost," Mae said. She and her brother had never seen a ghost before; however, Mae was in no hurry to meet face-to-face with one.
"No, it's not a ghost, sis," Tim said assuringly, "This is... different. Very different. C'mon, let's take a closer look." He tugged on Mae's paw, and the Gelert soon found herself coming closer and closer to the mysterious green light.
At a closer look, Mae was surprised to see that the source of the glow was actually a neopet. When she squinted, Mae could see two curved ears, stripes, paws with claws outstretched, and a surprisingly skinny body. The glow had dimmed considerably and stopped moving; the neopet - a Kougra, Mae noted - was huddled between two huge roots of a giant tree, and appeared to be shaking uncontrollably from loud sobs that disturbed the peaceful afternoon.
Deciding that the Kougra must be a girl, Mae stepped forward and spoke softly. "Excuse me, miss..." Startled, the glowing Kougra whipped around and hissed. Mae hopped back in shock, but Tim remained still, appearing oddly stalwart.
"Who are you?" the Kougra wailed.
"I-I'm Mae," Mae stuttered, "a-a-and this is my little brother, Tim... Well, we better be go n - "
"What's your name?" Tim squeaked curiously. The Kougra raised her head, and Mae noted that glowing tears slid down her cheeks and splashed on the ground, causing the dirt to glow an unnatural neon green. The Kougra rested her head on her paws and gazed at Tim.
"Olivia," she replied.
"Cool," Tim said. "How old are you? I'm six."
"Twelve," Olivia answered.
The Kougra turned away from them and faced the tree. An awkward silence spread over the three like a thick, choking blanket. Mae tugged at Tim's hoof, urging him to get away from the strange glowing Kougra, but Tim refused to budge. He stayed planted on the spot, gazing at Olivia as if contemplating what to say next. After a few more awkward seconds, he spoke.
"Why are you crying?"
Olivia slowly turned towards the two. Her eyes were a bloodshot, glowing red. "You don't even know me," she spat bitterly. "So why in Neopia do you care?"
"I just do."
"Well, I don't want to tell you. So scram, brat."
Tim was unfazed by the insult, but Mae discovered that she was now able to ease Tim away from the Kougra. She was slowly able to lead him away from the stranger, towards home.
Tim stopped abruptly and turned around to face Olivia. Mae reluctantly did the same.
"My mom abandoned me," Olivia said, her voice suddenly shaky. "I... I have this illness. I'm weak and I get sick a lot. Mom was able to bear the burden a while, but she just suddenly... couldn't take it anymore. I guess the price for the medicine from the Neopia Central Pharmacy I was taking started to inflate or something... so she just left." The Kougra looked down at her claws and was suddenly very, very quiet. Mae caught a gleam of loneliness in her eyes. Apparently, Tim saw it too; he rushed forward and gave Olivia a hug.
"My ma is gone, too," he whimpered. "I'm an orphan. But - " He smiled, " - Me and Mae will be your friends!"
Olivia's gaze slipped towards Mae, then Tim. She closed her eyes and allowed one more glowing tear to slide down her cheek and strike the ground, but Mae caught a faint smile on her face as she did so.
Indeed, they became friends... best friends, even...
But nothing lasts forever...
When Caleb entered the Round Room for the fourth time that day, he was surprised to find Madame crying. She was not sobbing or sniffling, but there were crystalline tears dripping from her eyes and down her furry cheeks to the marble ground below, where they seemingly melted into the magical ground. The Cybunny had never seen the mage cry before, so he couldn't help but stare instead of speak. Soon, however, the Xweetok was turning to him with a sad smile.
"Oh, Caleb," she said, sniffling suddenly. "There you are."
"Um, Madame, if I came at a bad time - "
"Oh! No, no, not at all. I was just reading - I mean, watching - a sad story."
"Watching?" Caleb inquired, "You mean, like Neovision?"
"Hm? Oh, no, nothing of the sort."
The Xweetok leaned back in her throne and suddenly seemed lost in another world. When she spoke again, her voice sounded hazy and distant. "Isn't magic a funny thing? You can accomplish the impossible. Seeing somebody as they are... seeing what they are thinking... seeing their memories... they all seem like impossible things that are made possible by magic. If magic didn't exist... what would Neopia be like, Caleb, if magic didn't exist?" The Xweetok turned to her apprentice, seemingly interested in his answer.
The Cybunny, however, was surprised by the sudden question, and fidgeted. "Um, I suppose that it would be a tad boring. And imagine - Lisha wouldn't have been able to discover that the Court Dancer was a Darigan... but then again, the Court Dancer would've been able to become beautiful at all if it weren't for magic... so I guess that - "
The Xweetok laughed. "It's alright, Caleb. You can calm down." She let out a sigh and leaned back in her throne again, whilst gazing into her crystal ball once again.
"Do you miss anybody, Caleb?... I know that you must've given up a lot to become my apprentice..." Her voice trailed off and the Cybunny suddenly felt uncomfortable. He stepped out of the room and closed the door, hoping that Madame wouldn't take notice.
To be continued...