She seemed so peaceful lying there, in her own tiny world. No one could have guessed the workings of her mind and what lay in the midst, but Karee’s mother, Brenda, always imagined that her daughter was encompassed in a world of joy, happiness, rainbows and sunny days, in a place that not even the darkest Neopian could invade. Outside the speckled Aisha’s hospital room, the wind and rain beat on the small windows as if it had succumbed to an intense anger, but the vicious sounds of nature would not wake her. Nothing would or, sadly, could. Her friends and relatives, especially her mum, dad and her twin sister, Kammi, had stood by her vigil for five long years, hoping that she would awaken from the coma that had deprived her of life, but not once did she stir.
Five years. A lot had happened in five years, but Karee had seen none of it. She had not witnessed the adoption of her little brothers, Samson, the blue Kacheek and Miyo, the yellow Chia, and had not been able to play with them or watch them grow up. She had not seen the spectacular festivities, each one more extravagant than its predecessor that their small town always held each year. She hadn’t even been there to say goodbye when her beloved Grandmother had passed away. Now, it was Brenda who had to say goodbye. Tears formed in her large, brown eyes and her lips quivered. For a moment, Brenda could say nothing at all.
“I’m so sorry, darling,” her mother wept, regretfully. “But we can no longer watch over you. Your dad has started a new job up in Terror Mountain. We have no choice but to move there with him. The only hospital is here and we just can’t risk letting you leave. If something was to happen to you and you weren’t here where it’s safe, I know I could never forgive myself.” She looked at the two Uni nurses standing at the back of the room and smiled warmly. “The Uni nurses are here to look after you, though, and they will never let you down. I promise.” She kissed Karee on the cheek. She didn’t stir.
Fifteen years later – Month of Hunting, Y22
It was happening again. She tried to shield her eyes from the wicked, reoccurring sight but it was like a strong, invisible grip was holding her eyes open. It was her home; she could feel it deep inside the very fibres of her subconscious, except it wasn’t her home, not really. It looked different. In a deep, dark fold at the back of her mind was a memory. It was so old that it continued to fade, and eventually, Karee knew that it would disappear forever. It was her home as it used to be. Now, it was so different. The beige carpet had gone and a cold wooden floor had replaced it. There was a writing desk against the south wall and stood on its right hand side was a small, white lamp, its light casting a dim yellow glow around the room. The new couch, a bigger, lime green one, was at the north wall.
Her mum was in the room, as always, and her expression was the same as it had been countless times before. She was fearful, so much so that her lips were quivering and her eyes were watery. She was clutching two boys, a blue Kacheek and a yellow Chia, and holding them against her, as if trying to cocoon them from some awful, unseen terror that was just out of Karee’s line of sight. Karee never had time to feel jealous or confused about the mysterious appearance of two strange children hugging her mum as if she was their own. Instead, she was overcome with fear and hopelessness. Karee could only watch from the sidelines as her family was struck by a frightful entity, determined to ruin their lives forever. Karee never found out what happened next because the scene faded to black for a mere second before she dreamed of other things, nicer things, like ice-creams and daytrips to the countryside, or the fairground.
She was suddenly aware of a pounding headache and a feeling of mild pressure on the back of her head, as if she had been lying on a pillow for a long time. She opened her eyes and instantly shut them again. The world out there was just a conglomeration of bright shapes and masses and she shut her eyes tight again. When she was feeling brave enough, she eased her eyes open, letting rivers of light flow into them a little at a time. A bright light was above her. It warmed her face.
“H-hello?” she called out. Her throat was dry and her voice was gravely. “Where... am... I?”
“Karee? Karee, can you hear me?”
“I can hear you... Mum? Is... that you, Mum?”
Her heart dropped. No. It wasn’t her mum. She didn’t sound like that. What had happened to her mum? Was she here, in the room, watching from the sidelines like she herself had once done? Karee was immensely confused. Had she been dreaming all that time, or was she dreaming now? Had that been reality and this a dream? She wanted to go back to sleep. She closed her eyes.
“Hello, Karee,” a Uni nurse said. “You drifted off to sleep again. Come on, sleepyhead, you’ve been snoozing for quite a while now.”
“How... long... have I been asleep?” Karee asked. She felt like she’d been sleeping for days. Her head ached so much.
A pause. And then, “...Twenty years.”
Twenty years. No. She couldn’t have been! She shook her head over and over again, which made her head pound more ferociously, but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t take it in. After a moment, she examined her paws and her speckled fur. She had grown. Really grown. It must have been true. Twenty years. She started to cry.
“How... how old was I? When I went to sleep? How old?” Her questions were so disjointed. She hoped that had made herself clear, for she desperately needed answers to a lot of things. Maybe then she could get her mind on the right track and get her mum, and her life, back.
The Uni knelt down beside her and stroked her arm soothingly.
“It happened when you were five years old. You ventured into a Dark Faerie’s cave. When your mum found you, it was too late. The Faerie had cast a spell on you and you couldn’t be roused. You came here. We tried all sorts of treatments, but nothing worked. Your family stayed with you for five years, but then they had to move away.”
The newest revelation hit her like a punch from a Skeith. Her entire family had left her. Why? Why would they leave her, just like that? Her eyes started to sting. She willed the tears to stay away. She had to be strong.
“Where are my parents now? My sister? My grandmother? Are they close by still?”
The nurse lowered her head. Even though Karee was still so very confused and upset, her heart became heavier in her chest. She read something in the Uni’s eyes that told her that bad news was to come.
“They stood vigil for five years, just waiting for you to wake up, Karee. They loved you dearly and wouldn’t stop showering you with love and affection. Your mum also sang your favourite lullaby every day. They loved you so much, please remember that. And they still do. But, Karee, they had to move to Terror Mountain because of your dad’s new job. Their money situation was dire. They had no choice. They entrusted us with your care, knowing full well that we would fulfil our duties as loyal Uni nurses. But Karee, there is some sadder news to follow.” The Uni nurse hugged Karee tightly. “Your grandmother passed away when you were six years old,” she said sorrowfully.
An ice cold bolt shot through her and instantly, the mental dam in her head collapsed and the tears came flooding out. The nurse stayed with her for awhile, hugging her tight, until Karee told her that she wanted some time by herself. The nurse, loath to deny patients their wishes, especially in such life-changing circumstances, left her room, but told her she would be back in an hour to check on her.
The nurse closed the blinds and dimmed down the lights so that there was a warm gentle glow in the room. She closed the door softly behind her and Karee could hear her hooves echoing along the corridor, getting quieter and quieter until no sounds could be heard from outside. Karee wept solidly until finally she drifted off into another sleep. This one was dreamless. When she awoke and looked at the clock, she realised she had been asleep for just over half an hour. Karee didn’t want to rest anymore, not after a whole twenty years of doing just that. What she really wanted to do was go to Terror Mountain to be with her parents and her sister. They had been apart for so long, had had their family bonds shattered when she fell ill, and had missed out on so many things. It was time to live again and fill the void of twenty lost years.
She lifted the quilt from around her body and felt a cool breeze sweep across her. She shivered and her teeth clattered. She had become so accustomed to the warmth of the quilt, even if she couldn’t embrace that warmness after being comatose for so long, that the small cosy room didn’t feel cosy at all. She felt exposed and incredibly timid for an adult. She hung her legs from the bed and then jumped down. She collapsed on the floor, her legs buckling beneath her. She hoisted herself up and supported herself on the frame of the bed. This would take a while to get used to.
When she felt safe enough to walk without extra stability, she hobbled to the window and lifted the blinds. The view was breathtaking. From this side of the hospital she could see fields full of fluffy Babaa, grazing on the grass as if they hadn’t a care in the world. The sun was so bright and seemed to illuminate each blade of grass as they blew in the breeze. Behind the fields of Babaa loomed a great forest filled with hundreds upon hundreds of newly budded trees. Pretty little clouds hung in the sky, some Babaa shaped, surrounding the sun. She could feel the heat from it caressing her face even through the window.
In the not so far distance, at the back of the nearest meadow, Karee could see a babbling brook. Opening the window a touch, she could hear the water cascading over the rocks and pebbles and could smell the glorious spring air. It was fragranced with fresh wild flowers and crisp grass. What a fine day to begin the search of a lifetime, she thought.
She wanted to just leap out of the room that had been her home for so many long years, but before she could do that, she had to thank the Uni nurses. If they knew that she wanted to leave, they would probably be inclined to stop her, for they would insist she needed to gain some more strength. Instead, she wrote them a letter.
Thank you for looking after me for all these years. I’m eternally grateful. I feel I am well enough to start my journey to Terror Mountain and be reunited with my family. It has been too long. I can’t wait. I shall pop in to see you when I can, and I will bring my family with me, too.
Lots of love,
Satisfied, Karee placed the letter on her pillow. She was surprised to feel a small lump in the mattress, just behind the pillow. She lifted the bed sheet and found a small bag with a note attached to it. It read,
This is for your journey when you wake up. We are waiting for you and we all love you very, very much.
Lots of love,
She opened the bag and golden coins gleamed from within. Her mum had left her 4000 NP so that she could make her way to Terror Mountain to be reunited. A warmth filled her heart and she smiled to herself. Her mum never lost faith, not once. She wondered if it was the love of a mother that had given her the strength to finally arise from the depths of the coma that had been her prison cell.
Bag in hand, she walked to the window, opened it as wide as possible, hoisted herself up and jumped out. The grass was bouncy beneath her feet and as soft as a baby Babaa’s woollen coat. She no longer felt cold as the golden sun beat down on her and the warm, late spring breeze caressed her face. In the distance, she saw a massive, neon blue sign that read ‘Grab an Eyrie Taxi and fly high today, for just 500 NP!’
Drifting through the skies was bliss. The Eyrie soared through the air, weaving and dipping and then rising high into the thermals. Karee felt exhilarated. The view was breathtaking. They passed above lush fields, great forests and stunning mountain ranges. They passed over the glittering realm of Faerieland, over the quaint villages of Meridell and Brightvale, over the cool ocean and finally into the snowy depths of Terror Mountain.
“Thank you for the best ride of my life!” exclaimed Karee to the Eyrie. The Eyrie returned her thanks and in a flutter of wings, he was off, ready to take on another journey.
So this was Terror Mountain. It was a very busy place, full of fun and laughter and oh, so cold. She fluffed her fur up, but it did little to warm her. Its effect only seemed to make her look bigger and stronger. She looked around her, beyond the children throwing snowballs and adults sipping mugs of hot borovan and saw a small shop selling winter clothing. She bounded over and purchased a Pink Plaid Coat for 1000 NP which looked lovely on her and warmed her up a treat.
As she left the shop and peered up a small incline straight in front of her, she noticed someone standing at the top that made her legs want to buckle and her heart stop in its track through shock.
“Kammi!” she yelled. “Kammi, it’s me, Karee! It’s me! ME!”
Kammi looked down and began to walk towards her. Karee had expected her to be happy, but as she got closer, Karee saw not a smile, but a frown. Her eyebrows were furrowed and she further accentuated the angry look by stamping her foot on the snow and crossing her arms together. Karee just wanted to cry. She couldn’t remember who she was. Kammi had changed. Her face appeared to be different, longer and sharper. Even her eyes were a different colour. Was this Kammi? The Aisha’s response told her otherwise.
“Kammi?” asked the Spotted Aisha. “I’m not Kammi. Who are you and what do you want with Kammi?”
She felt like she had been punched. The Aisha who looked like Kammi from a distance sounded offish, like Karee was not to be trusted with her twin's whereabouts. What had happened? Did the dreams really mean something awful had happened? She felt cold inside and she wanted to be sick. She breathed in and out, deeply, and was able to calm herself.
“I’m her sister. Her long lost sister. I haven’t seen Kammi for such a long time. I have been asleep, you see, for twenty years.”
“Then... you must be Karee.” The Aisha sounded relieved. “Kammi has spoken of you many, many times. She longed for this day, but...” – She looked at the ground and pawed at the snow nervously – “she isn’t here anymore. None of them are. Your family had to move away. They were being followed by a nasty gang of Dark Faeries. They completely destroyed the house. They were lucky to be alive.”
So she was right; they weren’t just dreams, they were premonitions.
“Where are they now?” she asked, hope finding a place in her heart. It was whisked away far too soon as the Aisha replied, “I’m so sorry. They couldn’t say.”
“It’s okay,” Karee replied, dejectedly. “It’s not your fault.”
“By the way, my name’s Lori,” the Aisha said. “You’re welcome to stay at my Neohome until you can sort things out.”
“Thank you. I might stay for a while, until I figure out where to start looking for my family.”
Lori’s home was small and modest, but very cosy. The walls were made of logs and soft rugs carpeted the wooden floors. Pictures of her family hung everywhere, and dainty, colourful ornaments sat on bookshelves and cupboards. A fire was roaring on the north wall of the lounge and directly opposite was a line of plush seats. She sat down in one of them. The sound of the fire in her ears and the warmth on her face sent her to sleep, but this was a natural sleep and it comforted her. Not long afterwards, Karee drifted into another dream.
She was dashing across fields of green. There were clouds in the sky, some wispy, others fluffy. In the distance stood the great city of Brightvale, standing tall and proud, a remarkable backdrop to the lush green forest that stood in front of it. At the foot of the forest was a wooden house. It looked very inviting. Its windows had been placed in such a way that it looked like the house was smiling at her. She ran down the mild slope and as she got nearer she could see pets sitting on a table and chairs. A Spotted Aisha was sipping cool lemonade with two other pets. They were laughing, like they hadn’t a care in the world. A woman walked out of the house, carrying a fresh tray of steaming hot cookies, straight from the oven. She bounded over to them and snapped back into the world of wakefulness. She was in Lori’s lounge.
“Lori?” she called.
“Is everything alright?” Lori replied, coming into the lounge.
Getting to her feet, she said, “Yep! Everything’s great. I finally know where I can find my family.” She was beaming. “Thank you so much for everything! I’ll find a way to reunite you. You must have been an amazing friend to them, Lori.”
She blushed. “Well, thank you, but to be honest, I’ll just be happy for you all to be back together. If you’re happy, I’m happy. But, how do you know where to find them?”
“This may sound mad, but I had a premonition. I had them when I was comatose too. I dreamed that they were here, in Terror Mountain. When I fell asleep, I found them again, somewhere beautiful and peaceful.”
“That’s wonderful news!” chimed Lori. She didn’t sound disbelieving, even though some might view Karee’s ramblings about premonitions hard to digest. She was thankful. “Now, off you go, and don’t look back. But, give me a hug first, yeah?”
They embraced. Their meeting was short, but it was sweet, and it was something that Karee would never forget. She caught another Eyrie Taxi and this time asked it to take her straight to the meadows on the outskirts of Brightvale. It touched down sooner than expected and then was off again in a rush of blue wings. She was here. They were so close; she could feel the warmth of a family pressing gently on her heart.
She breathed in the fresh spring air. Wanting to do it properly, like she had foreseen in her premonition, she bolted across the fields and meadows until she could see the spires of Brightvale above the horizon. She continued on until the forest came into view. She was atop a grassy bank when she saw them. Kammi was sitting at a table, idly sipping lemonade while her two brothers were laughing and telling jokes. Just like in the dream, her mum came out with a tray of cookies, and now was Karee’s cue to race towards them. She felt like she was running on clouds.
“Karee?” Brenda placed the cookies on the table. By now everyone had looked up at Karee, who was standing there with a sheepish look on her face. Karee!” Brenda cried, racing towards her daughter. They collided, wrapping their arms around each other. They stayed that way for some time. Brenda was crying, huge tears streaming down her face.
“Karee, I can’t believe you’re awake and that you’ve found us!” cried Brenda. “I’ve always dreamed of this day! And... at times, I thought I’d lost you for good.”
“You haven’t lost me, Mum. I’m right here and I’ll be by your side forever.”
Kammi chimed in. “I’m glad you’re here! It’s been no fun not having a sister.” They hugged, neither one of them wanting to let go.
Samson and Miyo hung back, until Karee welcomed them to come closer.
“Hi there, little ones,” she said, even though after all these years, they weren’t so little anymore. I’m Karee, your big sister. We have a lot to talk about and a lot to catch up on.” She hugged them both.
“I look forward to it!” said Samson, beaming from ear to ear.
“How did you know where to find us?” asked her mum some time later as they were sat in the living room and watching the sun set behind towering trees. It was just the two of them and they were having a well earned heart to heart.
“Well, this... coma,” she started. “I think it’s given me special powers. I’d been having dreams. One of them, a recurring one, was awful and it involved you protecting little Samson and Miyo from something awful.”
“The awful Dark Faerie attack on our home... you knew all this time. I’m so sorry, darling.”
“It’s okay, Mum, I understand. It wasn’t nice reliving your nightmare as a nightmare of my own but it was the first step to finding you again. I went to Terror Mountain and ended up falling asleep at Lori’s house. That was where I had the premonition of this house. When I woke up, I raced here fast as I could and... I’m just so glad that I’ve got this special ability because otherwise, I would never have found you.”
“Oh sweetheart,” her mother cried, tears of joy rolling down her cheeks.
“I love you, Karee,” came a man’s voice from the top of the stairs. She recognised that voice, even after twenty years. It was her dad! He raced down the stairs like he hadn’t aged a bit, and even before Karee had a chance to react, he scooped her up in his arms and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“I love you too, Dad!”