Lani and the Beast: Part Two
Lani woke up slowly the next morning to the bright island sun and the smell of pancakes. The giant ‘Kitchen’ box was gone. Jean must have taken it earlier. Lani slowly slipped out of bed, so as not to wake Minnie, and walked over to the window. The back yard didn’t seem scary at all in the dazzling morning light; it was beautiful. Lani felt like a new queen staring at her tiered subjects: the pond– dried up and dirty, and the exotic plants– withering and parched, and suddenly felt optimistic. She was the regal and beautiful faerie queen, Queen Lani, come to reclaim her lost kingdom and restore it to a beautiful faerie garden again.
Lani turned back and looked at her room, no, her THRONE room. She was going to fix that, too. Gone would be the ancestral ruins made of mould and moss. In with the statues of gold and pillars of marble… or, at least, some pictures and dressers and a full-length mirror. Minnie, likely awakened more by the smell of pancakes than the light, was starting to stretch her tiny legs out. The feepit stared endearingly at her owner.
“And you can be my loyal watch-feepit!” Lani giggled and twirled around her startled petpet happily. “You’ll be my advisor and you’ll help me pick out dresses for the royal balls, and of course you’ll be invited, too!”
“Lani,” Jean knocked on the door to the throne room. “Are you up?”
“Uh-huh!” Lani felt her energy blaze, and she opened the door and jumped into her owner’s arms. “I’m gonna fix the garden! And my room, so I can have a royal ball, and I’ll invite the orchids, and you can come too, but I have to make the invitations first! And I have to fix the back garden! Can I, Jean?”
Jean, caught off guard, stumbled backwards. “Okay, okay!” Jean and Lani were both laughing now, with Minnie yipping at their feet. “That can be your project. But let’s eat first, okay?”
The sun beat down on the kingdom, frying everything it touched. The plants were withering after weeks of abandonment. Those which would normally be in full bloom were crumpling back towards the earth. They rustled in the occasional breeze, shaking their heads in sorrow and remembering their long-lost glory. They were brown, as brown as the earth which they would turn into in their failure. Could any of them even remember the colors that they once flaunted? Even the tiny sprouts, barely a day out of the soil, were turning a dusty brown, already let down by the world above and never given then chance to grow and flourish. The pond was silent, a gaping mouth filled with parched grime that gasped for moisture and life.
And then came Queen Lani, with her long, green, magic scepter. She waved it around her head in circles, and water was everywhere. Water fell from the cloudless sky. It washed the dirt out of the pond and filled its mouth with the life-bearing liquid. It coated the plants and sank into the soil, where it touched the dormant seeds, a cool, sweet hint of their lives to come. Queen Lani waved her scepter, as flexible and long as a Hissi, again and painted a rainbow in the sky. The plants looked up, saw the rainbow, and remembered their beauty. The cool, pure water rushed through their roots, and they started to grow. In the name of the new great queen, Queen of Neopia, Queen of life, Queen of colors, Queen of the garden, they burst into bloom.
“Those flower are looking great,” Jean commented as she and Lani sipped krawkaid in Lani’s room. A week had passed since the move, and under Lani’s constant care the garden had become beautiful once more. Now and then, Carmarillers fluttered by to nuzzle the flowers (until Minnie chased them away), and Jean had put Primellas and Tanizards in the pond. Lani leaned over the windowsill and sighed happily, while knight Minnie dozed contentedly at her feet. Being a queen was fun, but it wasn’t easy! Her week had been full of weeding, digging, planting, trimming, more weeding, and hour after hour of Mystery Island mid-day heat. Jean had been working hard indoors as well. Only a couple of boxes remained unpacked, and they were going into the attic anyways.
“The whole house looks beautiful,” Lani murmured. The sun would be setting soon, and while Lani still refused to go outside at night, sunset was her favorite time of day. The garden was bathed in the yellow-orange rays of dying sunlight. The sunlight would even filter into her room, so that she could pull out a chair and it would be a throne, and she would reign over her golden kingdom from her castle, painted and decorated and draped with gold.
“It is.” Jean refilled their cups, interrupting Lani’s golden daydream. “It’s perfect. I’m really glad that we moved here.”
“Me too. The garden’s bigger here. I’m even growing some herbs.” Lani beamed. Soon Jean would be able to cook with the things that she grew, and they would be able to eat the things that she had sown and watered. “But not mint.”
“Oh?” Jean set the full glasses on the windowsill. “Why not?”
“Because someone,” said Lani, shooting a glare at Minnie, “keeps digging it up and eating it. Whenever the mint patch is nearly full and ready to harvest, it just disappears overnight! She’s finished my whole supply of mint!”
“That’s odd,” Jean mused aloud. “Are you sure that it was her?”
“Well, her claw marks are always in the dirt the next morning.”
Jean laughed and tickled Minnie on the belly. “Minnie hates to get dirty. She must love mint a ton to go digging for it!”
Lani shrugged, a bit alarmed by the realization. As she thought about it more, she couldn’t remember a single time that Minnie had gotten dirty all week. She was always sparkling clean in the morning and sparkling clean in the evening, when it was time to go to bed. The more that Lani thought about this, the stranger it seemed. The mint plot took up several square feet when full. How could Minnie eat all of that mint in a single night? Maybe Minnie could dig the mint out with her claws, but didn’t other things, Lani shuddered, things with big yellow eyes, probably have claws, too?
No, she thought after a while. That can’t be it. But try as she might, Lani couldn’t stop her paws from shaking just a little, making the ice cubes in her cup clink against each other.
That night, Minnie woke up, though she didn’t know what had woken her. She could feel her fur stand on end, and she recognized that instinctive feeling of fear and protective anger; the feeling that there was someone else on her turf, someone who didn’t belong there. Where? Where?!
Her delicate ears picked up a shifting, shuffling noise outside in the garden. Minnie tensed herself and jumped off of Lani’s bed. She wiggled through Lani’s bedroom door, which had been left open just a crack, and flopped down the stairs. She tumbled to the back door purposefully, looking like a pompom on a mission, and nosed her tiny (and also quite expensive and newly installed) petpet door open and stuck her head out into the wild, dark outdoors. Her eyes darted around the garden until they picked up movement. There, there!
Her eyes locked onto the big shadow, half hidden by the ferns that towered over the pond. Minnie couldn’t see the Tanizards and Primellas from the petpet door, but she could picture them shuddering, gills pumping furiously as they hid beneath the water lilies. Minnie growled under her breath. Though the shadow was definitely an intruder, she didn’t think that she could deal with something at least ten times her size. Her growl turned into a frightened squeak as the shadow stepped into the moonlight. Minnie yanked her head back inside and ran up the stairs. She jumped onto Lani’s bed and curled up in the crook of her owner’s arm. She shook violently as she remembered the giant claws that the THING extended, which it flicked through the water thoughtfully. As Minnie fell into a fitful sleep, the last thing that she thought about was the thing’s smell.
It had an odd smell. Minnie had picked up the musky, earthy, smell of the jungle. And mint. The thing had reeked of mint so that she almost missed the musky jungle smell. Minnie didn’t know who or what the shadowy thing way, but if smelled familiar.
Down in the garden, the shadow pushed the water lilies back and forth across the pond. It stared into the water, and when it did blink occasionally, its blinks were long and slow. It was thinking. The Tanizards and Primellas had sunk to the bottom of the pool, trying to hide. Even there, through the rippling water and around the water lilies, they could make out two huge, disc-like yellow eyes.
To be continued...