Shadows: Part Five
"I'm just going to go check on Olivia, okay, Tim?" Mae asked. "It's just going to be quick. She hasn't been feeling well lately, I can tell, because of how gloomy she was during our last visit." The pink Gelert turned to her small, brown Ixi brother, who was staring with anticipation not at Mae, but at what lay behind her. The front door was open with Mae's paw on the doorknob, and, outside, the sky was a cloudy dark gray. Sad, silver raindrops fell from the sky, hitting the ground so loudly that it could've been concrete instead of dirt.
"Can I come with you?" Tim squeaked.
"No, no, it's too dangerous," Mae replied, forcing on her too-small Wellington boots and zippering up her clear raincoat. "The storm could get worse. I'll only be gone for twenty minutes or so, okay?" She looked at her brother and repeated, "Okay?" He nodded numbly and scampered through the door to the hallway and, no doubt, to his room. Mae sighed. Ever since that fateful night two years ago, Tim had been terribly afraid of anything dark and scary, constantly speaking of evil "shadows" that haunted his nightmares.
The Gelert pulled up her hood and stepped outside into the rain, gently closing the door behind her.
The walk to Olivia's tiny cottage only took five minutes - during good weather. During rainfall, it was harder to distinguish the landmarks of the Haunted Woods that Mae knew so well - the tree with the huge roots, the small patches of purple roses, the black daisies, that one tree with only a few branches since it had been struck by lightning... The rain worsened as she stumbled through it, and she found herself surrounded by a curtain of silver, unable to find her way. It must've been simply by luck that she came across the cottage...
To her surprise, the windows didn't glow the soft golden they often did. Olivia always kept the candles in her home lit, even when she slept, so it was completely uncharacteristic of her to not have the candles' light flooding from her windows, especially on the day of a storm.
Mae walked up to the front door and knocked on it. "Olivia," she called out, "it's me, Mae."
"Olivia!" Mae rose her voice over the screeching rain.
Mae frowned and tried the doorknob. Keeping her paws on the wall so that she wouldn't lose her way, she moved around the perimeter of the house and found one of the windows. She could just peer through the glass if she stood on her tip-toes, and, looking inside, she could see Olivia's room. To her horror, the room was bare. Where there had once been a rusty bed with a lumpy mattress, a vanity with various cosmetics, and piles of clothes and books scattered everywhere, there was only wood and dust.
Mae tried to open the window and was surprised to find that it easily slide upwards. With a grunt, she pulled herself up onto the windowsill and slid inside. Dripping from head to toe in cold water, she shivered and angrily shut the window. Turning around, she listened to the squeaky pitter-patter of her boots echoing through the room as she slowly stepped through the room, searching for any proof that Olivia had once been there. Her stomach twisted at the emptiness of the room, and she slowly stepped into the living room...
The living room, too, was empty, and so was the second bedroom that had once stored the paintings that Olivia's mother had made, and the kitchen - it was all bare.
Except for one thing.
Mae found it in the second bedroom that had once been Olivia's mother's. Mae knew that Olivia had dearly loved her mother, a faerie Kougra, and that she was a wonderful painter who loved watercolors. When she left, she left behind all of her paintings, and Olivia cherished them over everything else.
In that room, there was a scrap of white paper taped to the wall. Olivia's sloppy scrawl was all over it, but Mae had always loved her messy handwriting. It may've not been neat and beautiful, but it was full of love. Olivia always tried her best at everything and put love into whatever she did.
The Gelert hesitantly stepped forwards and took the note in her hand.
I apologize for having left so suddenly.
I have concluded that the Haunted Woods is contributing to the failure of my health. I have decided to live elsewhere in hopes that my illness may leave me. I've left a little treat in the corner for you and Tim; it's Altadorian Sun Cheese. I hope you like it; it never spoils, and I've had it for years... from before my mother left me. Oh, and Tim... he really is such a sweet boy. Don't tell him that I just left. Tell him that I'll come back, even though I truly doubt that I ever will. I really do love you like my own siblings... You have no idea how glad I am that Tim approached me in the Haunted Woods that night when my mother left me - I don't think I've ever been happier. I consider you two to be my only true family. Please, take care.
Mae bit her lip and crumpled the note in her hand. How... how could Olivia do this to them? She was like their older sister! They looked up to her, respected her, admired her! And then she just got up and left? How dare she... Mae whipped around, stuck the crumpled piece of paper in her hand, and was met with the Altador Sun Cheese, placed in an open, weary cardboard box and pushed into the corner of the room. It was a strangely bright part of the room, and Mae had the urge to kick it, destroy it, toss it out the window and dance on the remains.
But she didn't.
Instead, she stepped hesitantly forward, closed the flaps of the box, and lifted it. Mae slid it under her coat and was careful that none of its colorful perfection was harmed, then walked through the house for the last time and ventured into the storm once again. She didn't look back.
Mae closed her eyes, trying to forget again. The memories melted away, but Mae could still feel the pain. A cold tear slid from under her eyelid and fell onto the worn blanket. She hated the feeling of being left behind, abandoned; it made her feel like a fool. Olivia had been her best friend. Despite their age difference, Olivia was the older sister she never had, and the mother that she had lost. Olivia was always there for her to catch her when she fell, and comfort her when she cried. It was okay that she'd leave, even if it was painful... but couldn't she say it to her face? Couldn't they have had a proper good-bye?
Couldn't she have at least given them that?
Mae suddenly found herself thinking about Tim, her beloved little brother. Had he, too, abandoned her? Or had she simply let him go on his way? Where had he gone? Although she was sure that they would only be painful to remember, the Gelert found herself reaching for those memories, putting together the pieces, and listening to the past...
When Caleb entered the Round Room for the fifth time that Halloween, the mage looked unusually tense. She only glanced at Caleb before gazing at her crystal ball once again.
"Don't you feel it, Caleb?" She asked. The Cybunny gazed at her confusedly.
"This sense of... forbidding. Think of it as a chessboard. You've played chess before, haven't you?" Caleb nodded.
"Think of the chess pieces. There is one chess piece that has two decisions. One decision can lead the chess piece to attaining 'victory,' the other to 'defeat.' But the player who has this chess piece - or, in this case, IS the chess piece - is unaware of which decision is the correct one. Do you understand what I'm saying here, Caleb?" The Cybunny had, in fact, absolutely no idea what the mage was talking about.
"Madame," he said, changing the subject, "perhaps you should come out for a little while? The servants and other apprentices are certainly worrying over you. You haven't taught a lesson all day, which is very uncharacteristic of you, and might I say, the servants are making mistakes in their jobs because of their worry. Maybe if you could just come out and assure everybody that you're alright, we would all certainly appreciate it, and perhaps it would ease their anticipation somewhat. I know that perhaps I am saying too much, Madame, but you're like a mother to us and we care about you quite a lot."
But the mage did not reply. She continued to gaze into her crystal ball, unblinking, attentive. Caleb wondered if she had heard a single word he had said.
To be continued...