Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 186,509,625 Issue: 507 | 12th day of Hiding, Y13
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Torch in the Darkness: Part One


by ellbot1998

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Art by ellbot1998

Author’s Note: As the third installment of the Shadow of the Xweetoks saga, I advise that you read Tyrants and Heroes (the second installment) first. Not much will make sense otherwise.

“Rubia?”

     “Yes, Cerulean?” She turned around from the tome she was reading and smiled.

     “I’m going to pick some berries.”

     “I remember the last time you said that, Cerulean. And the time before that. And the time before that.”

     “Well, by now you should know that I can’t suppress my instincts to be with the woods,” I said over my shoulder as I flicked the door open and walked outside.

     It was a crisp, refreshing morning. A light mist arose from the ground as the rainfall slowed to a dribble. A leaf for holding herbs dangled from my mouth as I slowly paced the undergrowth. The sound of a river came into my hearing range. Every now and then, I just had an urge to walk. I knew that the Hunters made it dangerous, but I couldn’t resist.

     When I reached the high rapids at my leisurely speed, I stopped. My legs were about to get me into a position to sit down and watch the waters, but one of them slipped out from under me, due to the river’s mud. I couldn’t help sliding into the stream; as for the basket, it was forgotten. In my desperate struggle for air, my arms flailed about and clutched wildly. The last thing I remembered was grabbing hold of something small.

     I soon found myself awake on the shore of a small pond. How long had I been asleep? The river feeding the pool caused a gentle tide which soothed my ears. It didn’t take me long to realize what I was still holding.

     My claws curled around a tiny diamond-shaped sapphire as a sense of familiarity overcame me. To verify it was what I thought it was, I held it up next to the jewel on my other leg.

     They matched perfectly; it was the same one that had fallen off of me.

     A smile quickly found its way across my face as I remembered the last adventure I had had. I saved Rubia and she was able to embellish the sapphire in me once more. I carefully nestled the gem behind my ear, and started strolling off to who-knows-where.

     I stopped short as I realized I had ended up in, well, who-knows-where.

     I was in a golden forest.

     The Creator’s forest.

     A chill ran up my spine as I looked over myself, noting that I was completely healthy. Why was I there? If Mother were to summon me, it would be either because I had injuries she wanted to heal or because she had something to say.

     “Cerulean, do you remember the way?”

     I turned around as a pink Ogrin with a short sword in one hand appeared from around a tree. Most Creator’s Children were designated guardians. Mine was Evre, who had pointed me away from Hunters several times in her dust form, and also knocked out Chix once when she was about to capture me; then, she took me to the Creator.

     “No, I don’t. What am I doing here?” I inquired.

     “I think the Creator would like to explain it to you herself. Here, I’ll show you to the cavern.” Evre beckoned.

     We steadily trudged through the woods, my guardian loping along at a swagger while I smoothly paced on. We clocked away a few minutes before the entrance to a cave opened up before us.

     “Bye for now,” Evre noted over her shoulder as she strode off. “Tell Rubia that I said hi.”

     When she was out of sight, I paused for a few moments, and then scampered down the cavern’s slope. It was all dark, until the soft glow of an open room greeted me. The aura of the Xweetok before me soothed me so much, and was such a contrast to what I normally felt from my surroundings, that the world around me faded to black. I was asleep.

     ~~~~~

     “Ce-ru-le-an,” a voice echoed and washed over my ears.

     “Goway, I’m tired,” I said before I remembered that I was last in the forest running, and not resting in bed.

     “Cerulean,” the feminine, singsong tone repeated.

     “I’m tired,” I persisted.

     “Now, do you believe this is any way for you to talk to the Creator?” My eyes flew open, and the Mother of the Forests was lying before me.

     “I’m sorry.” My face went red with shame. I loved the Creator too much for spite to seep into my words to her.

     “Don’t be.” She smiled warmly and put a paw over me. Her body heat completely soothed my pelt, chilled from the normal rainfall.

     She was a serene sight: most foresters could only imagine her.

     None imagined she could have been a Xweetok.

     Her fur was a very light brown, her stripe and mane a beautifully deep blue green. Her eyes were the only gold ones I had ever seen. Whilst a set of gorgeous oval wings sprouted from her back, the most unusual of her features, though, was the yellow ring of fur on her otherwise entirely tan forehead.

      She was in possession of an extremely-difficult-to-imagine amount of mass: her large hall was just wide enough for her to stand up in if she wanted to. Believe me, it was a large room. It took a lot of torches to light it.

      “Mother, you were right. We have seen each other again.” I smiled as I recalled her very last words to me the first time I had seen her. “Why have you brought me here?”

     “It’s been too long,” she said as she picked me up carefully to examine me. The first time she had done it, I had been scared stiff, not knowing who she was. But I knew her now, I understood her. I allowed her to be protective and check for any harm done to her most recent child, without me flinching or closing my eyes tightly out of fear.

     “You are healthy as usual, undoubtedly a little stronger-looking,” she reflected as she set me back on the floor and gently nuzzled my head.

     “Is that the only reason? I mean, that it’s been too long.”

     “Well, no.”

     “Why?”

      “I’m sending you on a mission.” She curled part of her paw around me, as I was still cold from the rain that had soaked my pelt. The warmth was satisfactory, and I partially dozed off.

     “Wh-what kind of mission?” I stammered, slightly surprised.

     “I want you to go to the ocean, and find a way to cross it. You’ll find an enemy of all of us occupying an island,” she instructed very seriously. “You must bring him to me.”

     “Ocean? What is ocean?”

     “It is where all rivers lead. It is a massive body of water that takes up a great deal of our world.”

     “How will I cross it? What’s on the other side? Who is the ‘enemy’, and how do I take him to you? Where is it?”

     She scooped me up in her paw and lifted me up to her face so I could see her shake her head.

     “You will find the answers to all of those things, and I will tell you one thing that will, with thinking, clear up one of those questions. There are Neopets that can live in water, and they inhabit the ocean.”

     “How do they not drown?”

     She shook her head again.

     “Usually, the wonder and excitement of something is in getting there, not in the place itself. The less I tell you, the more fascinated you’ll be at what you find, and you know you’re my child; I want you to be happy. My mission is important, but I picked you because you have been the most understanding person in my life since a very, very long time ago. The last thing I’m going to tell you is that you’ll meet somebody on the way there. Ask her to come with you, and she will say yes.”

     “Is it somebody I know?”

     “Yes and no. Opal?” She turned and called, and a white Ogrin entered the room from the single actual door that was in it. It was meant for dust pixies, as the Creator wouldn’t fit in it. Ever.

     “Fetch the key,” she directed to Opal, and the dust pixy left. She returned within seconds, holding an item in her palm. The Creator lifted her paw and I sauntered over to the pixy.

     It was a single, glittering silver key. Etchings on the handle were chipped so much that they were unreadable, it had countless water stains all over it, and it was strung on a thin rope. The twine appeared relatively new, ironically.

     “Give this to her when you meet her. She will be your only companion; don’t trust anybody else.”

     I put it around my neck for the time being. Mother’s eyes showed relief that I didn’t object to the mission, yet they appeared worried about my wellbeing.

     “But how will I know it’s her?”

     “She’s unusual.”

     “Unusual, how?”

     “In the same way you are, Cerulean.”

     She uncurled her paw from around me.

     “You will return to Deepwood through trust alone.”

     She sat up and smiled, her tail wrapped around her paws. Suddenly, she blinked again, and the world around me began fading.

     “Wait! Can’t you at least clarify for me?” I shouted, as the world’s colors faded, and I was all alone in a white void. Startled, I turned around, only to find that there was only more of the void.

     “Wait, help me!”

     It was far too late. The world around me faded, and was replaced by the forests. I found myself at Rubia’s doorstep. Raising a quivering paw, I knocked.

     “There you are, Cerulean,” she said and gestured inside. I sat down in one of the chairs.

     “Did you get into a chase with a Hunter? You’re panting.”

     “N-no, everything happened so fast...”

     “What happened?” Rubia showed some concern in her expression.

     “Well, I was walking, and I slipped into a stream. I grabbed around for something to hang on to, but my paw only came around this,” I paused, took the sapphire from behind my ear and gently set it on the table in front of me. “I remember, when you were caught, it fell off of me. That was all it took to provoke me, and I had ran outside and thrown it into the river. It was a one-in-a-million chance that it managed to get caught somewhere.

     “Anyways, soon I had washed up on a pool’s shore. I woke up and felt rather... dazed. I guess if I felt dizzy like that, I shouldn’t have started walking again, but I couldn’t help it.” I paused, trying to find the words to explain the rest.

     “And?”

      “I saw the Creator. She told me to go on a mission.”

     “Cerulean,” Rubia said as she slithered closer and wrapped a wing around me. We had been together for so long: Now I would leave her to risk myself. “You’re a Child, but not only that, but you’re the Child. You are the only one who understands. Why would she put you on stake?”

     “You answered your own question. She told me that I understand her most, which is why she picked me.”

     She sighed. I would be missed.

     “What is the mission, and how urgent is it?”

     “She told me to cross the sea and defeat an enemy. I can’t say that she revealed much more,” I said as I turned the key on a string around in my paw. “And she also said that I would return through trust alone.”

     “Could I come with you?”

     “The Creator told me that I must travel only with the one I meet on the way there, and that I should give her this. She told me that she is different in the same way I am, and when I asked her if I already knew her, she said yes and no.”

     Rubia shook her head.

     “How can you know and not know somebody at the same time?”

To be continued...

 
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