Flowlight: Moon - Eternal Stranger: Part Three
Minutes later, she was seated with the two members of the family who had not wandered off, chattering to themselves. It is sometimes said of people that they are not all there, but James Miller was not there at all.
Incredulosity had reappeared in Alex's countenance, perhaps to cover for his recent embarrassment. “There's no way you could've been around a hundred years ago,” he was saying. “There's no such thing as an immortal pet. And even if you were really long-lived, you don't have grey hair or anything.”
“That's because I was last born twenty-five years ago, the Month of Awakening. It was the same day that the unpleasant conspiracy surrounding Vira was uncovered. Did you receive news of that?”
The Tonu shook her head. “White Weewoos never make the run out here. They stopped sending them a long time ago. Too costly.”
Around a mouthful of stew, Alexander added, “But nothing on the outside has ever affected the settlements anyway. What news we get -”
“- comes from the gypsies,” his mother said at the same time as he did.
“News by the caravan is notoriously unreliable,” Solana commented. “They prefer a good story.”
“So does the Times,” Alex countered. “And the Hourly Glider. And even the Minute Minute which is written exclusively for petpetpets -”
“Perhaps you could explain that later,” Mrs. Miller interrupted. “Oh, you have soup on your chin, Alex.” She began wiping it off.
Solana decided to put the conversation back on track. “Despite appearances, I'm not here on holiday. I have a matter to deal with in the Haunted Woods. Though it may seem unrelated, please tell me about the founding of the settlements, what they teach you in school, at least.” She paused to glance out the window, at the tiny little town – something of a glorified village, really. There was a strange, faraway look in her eyes. “No, more specifically... tell me, do they have office blocks around here?”
“What?” The Tonu looked puzzled, hard to pull off while chewing.
“What's the level of development? Are there desk jobs? Ones involving writing, reading, arithmetic?”
“And they have a school? What do they teach there?”
“They tell you about history,” Alex said promptly. “They drum it in over and over again. What are they supposed to do?”
“How old is the headmaster?” Solana pressed.
“Oh, he's pretty ancient. People say he's over a hundred but they're joking, I think.”
“He was headmaster when I was a child,” Mrs. Miller added.
“He set up the school?”
“May have done. Where are you going with this?”
Solana ignored her. “Alexander. What's his species and colour?”
The little Shoyru frowned. “Meerca. Grey, but only from age. There are traces of brown.”
“One last question. In the history he teaches, what is the species of the hero?”
In one of the most dramatic events that had occurred to the elderly headmaster in his current career, the door to his office was kicked open, resulting in an explosion of dust and wood splinters. The geriatric Meerca reeled back, coughing, let go of his cane and fell over. He manage to raise his head, and saw a little Shoyru and a timid-looking Tonu emerging from the dust cloud. What caught his eye was the one in front of them, a pure white Xweetok holding a shining whip which hovered in the air like it had no weight at all.
“'Mr Nedaluorem',” she said cynically. “You have no imagination whatsoever. This is quite an unexpected meeting.”
As he scrabbled for his cane and the weapon embedded in it, she whispered, “Bind,” and the whip leapt at him like a living thing. It wrapped around his body and tail, painfully tight.
Taking no further notice of him, the Xweetok crossed over to the desk and chair which were the only furniture in the room, as the other two watched him uncertainly. A number of discreet ornaments decorated it, along with no small amount of paper. Solana's gaze was drawn to a tiny Qasalan lamp, whose flame flickered in the gloom of early morning. With the slow and unfailingly accurate movements of the detective for whom it is all finally coming together, she picked it up and blew it out. Something lifted from the atmosphere.
Solana turned to the Meerca. “If you were clever, you wouldn't have needed something this powerful to keep your victims fooled. Perhaps it would be best to remember that creativity does not equate to intelligence, especially not the sad attempt you've shown here.”
“Mmph,” the Meerca said articulately.
Solana held her left arm straight out in front of her, the extinguished lamp balanced on her paw. “Tauralë ná mi ni. Tauralë ná mányanna. Nai tauralë sulë mir ni.” A golden stream of magical light flowed out of the lamp and up her arm, where it coiled and settled -
- a wisp of grey smoke, with less substance than a thought, ceased its feeding and, struggling, escaped the pull, shooting out of the spout and vanishing up the chimney; Alex watched it go, not sure whether he had seen it or not, while Solana was sure of it, though she gave no hint -
- and she put down the lamp, no longer a magical artifact. Concentrating, she produced a small glass bottle of the same shining fluid, floating in the air in front of her. The light from the lamp flowed into it through the glass, and the level rose, if only very little. “Not nearly enough,” she said to herself. “There is something more powerful around here.”
She extended her hand, and the whip flew into it, the cord receding into the handle, the handle vanishing into her ring. The Meerca found himself just as quickly bound again by a stout length of rope from one of the old room's corners. “I'll leave what's left to you, now the thought inhibitor is gone,” she said to Alex. “Tell no-one I was here.”
As she headed for the door, though, he ran up to her one one of the quite reliable impulses intelligent young children have, and gripped her arm. “Please wait,” he said. “I've not played you a farewell song yet.”
Solana shrugged, apparently unmoved. “I suppose I shall have to impose on you a few more hours.” She tossed a transmitter onto the floor. It was normally used only by agents of the DoN, so the high-priority beacon it was emitting would bring someone quickly; hopefully this peculiar plot would be the last time Merouladen troubled Neopia. Then she left.
The Shoyru ran out the door after her. Mrs. Miller, who didn't forget so easily, watched the captive.
It is high noon, and even the Haunted Woods has places where the fact is impossible to hide. A grand piano has been brought out on a particular house's lawn, but it would take a lot more than its removal to make the house indistinguishable from those around it. Even the grass is a headache-inducing lime green here, but nobody minds.
The piano has upon its seat a green Shoyru so small that he has to stand to reach the far keys. But he is used to it, and his playing is not dulled. The song is not a succession of separate tones. It is music.
The same wind that rustles the grass gently carries the crescendos and diminuendos over the trees, high, high up to what listeners there may be. It is not the gentle, sad beauty of a farewell song. It is proud, strong, full of hope and the belief in tomorrow and all the other ridiculous notions that makes this sentient race what it is. And they are what will enable it to persevere, to progress, to transcend. Life's last breath here will be far, far in the future, so far ahead that no-one alive can see it, not even the one standing here with the mind older than starfall. But they all have the thought in their minds, for it is the first Thought which established life and magic, which are one and the same.
And as the song draws to a close there is a tiny 'ping', like the ringing of a minute glass bell, and the Xweetok freezes for just a moment. When next she smiles, true happiness has faded from it.
She has been reminded of the passage of her own time, and that she bears something that prevents her from having a home, a family, or true friends, for such is the fate of those who live outside the flow of this world, to forever be forgotten, to witness the deaths of those who knew and believed in you as the falling of leaves, swift, fleeting, unhaltingly and unbendingly regular. To be, eternally, a stranger.
Some time afterwards, Solana left the Miller household, her short, practical robes rippling in the wind. She had much experience in goodbyes. She knew she would never see the family again, or if she did, they would have grown up and grown old and gone senile. She knew that the easy way, not that any way was ever easy, would be to leave without a word or a letter or a turning around. But she was a rememberer, and so she looked back at the peculiar house, which would not be there when next she visited, at Alex, who was -
- flapping towards her, clumsy in his haste. “Hey! Let me come with you!”
The Xweetok blinked at the absurd suggestion. Where she went, she could not be followed, or accompanied. She opened her mouth to say that she had work to do, promises to keep, people to meet, power to gather; that she had no time to pamper a child, no way to give him a proper upbringing, neither wealth nor happiness.
But hope, blind, idiotic, reasonless hope, which she had thought she had wrung out of herself before she had even come to this world, twisted her words, tangled them up and reshaped them so that what she said was, “Only for a very short time, if you're so eager.”
“How short?” he asked, crestfallen.
“Until you get bored or scared away, or else until the end of your life.”
At which point the Shoyru smiled like a sunbeam, a smile that Solana knew very well, and she smiled back, unaware of how her countenance changed completely when she did so. Then they left together, and the twin tracks they left behind were carefully dug up and preserved afterwards by the townspeople, a little piece of history to be debated over by brilliant if misdirected minds for centuries to come as the last sign there was to be seen of the Xweetok and the Shoyru, for the two would never return.
Thank you very much for reading this. :) This is only a half-story, so excuse the odd ending. Neomails are welcome!