Song of Silence: Part One
A gentle whistling breeze danced at the mouth of a cool dark cave that stood, surrounded by many like it, at the foot of a cliff overlooking the once-green hills of Merridell. It was mid-January, and the hills were white now, covered with a deep layer of sparkling snow, which created a serene silence that remained undisturbed by all the creatures living there.
Inside the cave that overlooked the silent hills, two figures stirred restlessly.
"It should be any day now," murmured a mother Draik, who lay by her nest, resting her snout on the closest of the three eggs inside.
"Don't worry, they'll all be fine," said her mate shortly, though he was pacing back and forth at the back of the cave, flapping his shadowy wings in agitation.
The mother raised her red snout from the egg it had been resting on and huffed, a cloud of smoke pluming from her nostrils, "I told you we laid them too late, Damien. The winter was too cold; we'll be lucky if one of them hatches."
Damien stopped his pacing and approached the nest, nudging one of the eggs gently with his nose. He sighed, then made for the cave entrance. "I'm going out," he said pointedly, "We need more food if our hatchlings are going to be fed."
Two days later, early in the morning as the sun was just starting to appear over the horizon, Damien woke to a soft cracking sound. He opened one eye slowly, and gasped at what he saw.
"Rosemarie, wake up!" he cried, shaking his mate eagerly, "Look!"
Rosemarie blinked sleepily and yawned, but shot up when she saw what was happening. Not one, but all three of the eggs in the nest had started to show minute hairline fractures along their shells.
The cracks grew, and eventually the starry snout of the first hatchling nosed its way into the air. A few more taps, and the top of the shell came away, revealing the little one's head, his enormous red eyes blinking as they adjusted to the sunlight creeping in through the mouth of the cave.
"A son," Damien murmured, leaning down to examine his child. "I'll call you Sirius, for the stars that adorn your wings. You will be a great flyer, touching the heavens just as those who came before you. Welcome my son."
Sirius shook away the last of his eggshell, and stumbled to the edge of the nest, flapping his leathery wings awkwardly as he struggled over the edge and dropped to the stony floor.
Rosemarie smiled gently, and picked him up by his tail, depositing him back with the other eggs, the second of which was about to hatch.
The egg rolled over and started to split. Soon a white tail broke through the shell, followed by a pair of scrambling feet that flailed in the air as they attempted to right themselves. The remaining lower half of the shell split open, and a little female backed out, shaking her scaly body to rid herself of remaining bits of eggshell.
She blinked at her mother and smiled, hrrring softly as she approached the edge of the nest.
Rosemarie bent down and touched her snout to her daughter's, narrowly avoiding being swatted by Sirius as he growled and batted at her playfully. "I shall call you Blossom," she said softly, "for you are white as the canvas on which you shall someday paint your masterpieces."
Blossom squeaked and nudged her mother's nose, then swatted her brother playfully. He pounced on her and they both tumbled out of the nest, rolling across the stone floor.
Damien went to intercept them, and Rosemarie turned her attention to the last egg, which was wobbling with the unborn hatchling's efforts to break free.
Eventually a small shard of eggshell chipped away, and the very tip of a navy blue nose, the colour of the night sky, could be seen trying to emerge.
The nose took its time, knocking free a centimetre of shell at a time, until finally, after nearly twenty minutes, the head emerged.
Rosemarie and Damien both gasped when they saw her. She was eventide, her scales shimmering like a beautiful sunset, her blue head and wings melting into soft yellows and oranges, that ran all the way to the tip of her tail. Eventide Draiks were very rare, and they held a very special ability. They could sing.
Draiks believed that the colour a hatchling was born with was indicative of their inborn skill and talent. Starry and cloud Draiks were great flyers, fire Draiks were fast runners, white Draiks were brilliant artists, and eventide Draiks... were angelic singers. Every year in September, on Draik day, all the Draiks of Neopia gathered for a tremendous festival that lasted for two days and two nights. The highlight of the festival was always the song of the eventide Draiks. It was said to be the most beautiful sound ever heard, and it echoed throughout the hills of Merridell, bringing joy to all who heard it.
"Damien, look," Rosemarie whispered as she peered at her daughter's glittering scales.
"She's beautiful," Damien agreed, touching the baby's snout with his.
"I will call you Desdamona," Rosemarie murmured, "for your song shall be as beautiful as your name."
Desdamona smiled, staring at her mother with piercing blue eyes. Soon her siblings, who were still tussling on the floor outside the nest, caught her attention, and she grinned, scrambling out of the nest to join them.
Sirius spotted her and broke free of Blossom's grip. He grinned mischievously and pounced on Desdamona, who was caught off-guard and fell heavily under her brother's weight.
"I win!" squeaked Sirius. "Say it or I won't let you up!"
Desdamona wriggled under him, trying to escape.
"Go on, Des'mona," Sirius said. "Say it, or you'll be stucked forever!"
Desdamona opened her mouth and tried to say something, but all that came out was a rush of air. She scowled and tried again. Not even a peep.
Rosemarie, who had been watching her children from beside the nest, rose from her spot anxiously and approached. "Sirius, let your sister up," she said.
Sirius did as he was told and Desdamona sat up, smoothing her ruffled scales.
"Desdamona," Rosemarie said. "Can you say my name? Can you say 'mother'?"
Blossom, who noticed her sister getting all the attention, bounded up and said proudly, "I can say it! 'Mother!' 'Mother' 'Mother' 'Mother!'"
Damien, who by this time had noticed something was amiss, came up beside Rosemarie and looked worriedly at his youngest daughter. "Hush now, Blossom," he said. Leaning down so that he was at eye-level with Desdamona, he said firmly, "Desdamona, say something, anything."
Desdamona opened her mouth wide, took a deep breath, and let out a rush of air. Nothing more.
Rosemarie looked at Damien with fear. "I-I don't think she can talk," she murmured.
Damien flapped his wings agitatedly and shook his head, "Of course she can," he retorted, "She just needs to try harder, that's all."
He picked Desdamona up and held her cupped in his hands. "Now, Desdamona," he said, "I know you can talk if you just try, so try for me, give it everything you've got."
Desdamona scowled with determination and nodded. She took another deep breath, and forced it out as hard as she could. Nothing, not even a whisper. She tried again, and again, and again until her father finally told her to stop.
Damien stared at his daughter for several minutes, then hugged her tightly. "Oh, Desdamona," he sighed bitterly, "My poor sweet sunset, what are we going to do with you?" He put her down gently and watched as she padded off, a mournful expression on her face.
Rosemarie turned to her husband and cried, "Oh, Damien, what are we going to do? Our child is mute, voiceless. She's an eventide Draik; if she can't fulfil her destiny, if she can't sing, whatever will she do?"
Damien shook his head sadly. "I don't know. All I do know is that we have to do the best we can for her, help her in any way possible. I'll think of something, don't worry."
Three weeks passed, and the two Draiks were soon surrounded by friends in neighbouring caves, come to inspect the little ones. The dialogue was always the same; "Oh, I am glad they hatched, I was worried they'd been laid too late," "Aren't they darling? Kronos and Jamil will have some friends to play with, they were getting restless in the cave by themselves," and invariably, "Oh, the poor dear, however will she get on without a voice? I've never heard of an eventide Draik who couldn't sing, have you? You must be dreadfully disappointed."
Every time Desdamona heard this, she winced inside. Why did she have to be born like this? She felt like a freak, an outcast, like Morag, the mutant Draik in the legend her mother always told her before bed, who got driven out of the hills because he was too different and frightened everybody. Sometimes she wondered if it would have been better if she'd never been born at all.
Eventually the time came when the hatchlings were old enough to leave the cave. It was mid-February, and the snow that lay so thickly on the ground the month before, was starting to melt, revealing patches of green that smelled sweet and lush, whispering a promise of spring.
"Before you go out, there are several things you must remember, they are very important," Rosemarie said to her hatchlings, who were fidgeting restlessly at the mouth of the cave, eager to break free and explore. "First, you may go down to the bottom of the hill, but no farther, there is a pond over the rise of the next hill, and if you fall into it, I'll be too far away to hear you, understand?"
The hatchlings nodded obediently, hardly able to pay attention.
"Second, you are not to wander off with any strange Draiks, they might be dangerous and try to harm you, third – "
Blossom sighed and interrupted, "Don't worry, Mother, we promise we'll be careful. Can we go now? Pleeeeeease?" She batted her heart-melting eyes adorably, and her mother sighed.
"Alright," Rosemarie finally conceded, "But be careful – "
"Thanks!" Blossom and Sirius cut her off, and the three hatchlings bounded out of the cave.
"And look after your sister!" Rosemarie called. "Don't lose sight of her!"
Desdamona rolled her eyes and huffed indignantly. Just because I can't talk doesn't mean they have to treat me like a baby, she thought, bounding through the piles of snow to keep up with her siblings.
Sirius and Blossom skidded to a stop at the top of the hill, and Desdamona crashed into the back of them.
"C'mon," Sirius said excitedly. "Let's roll down the hill, first one to the bottom wins!" And he leapt over the edge, not waiting for his sisters to follow.
"Come on, Des!" Blossom said. "Geronimo!" She tumbled down the hill after her brother, landing in a heap at the bottom.
Desdamona looked down uncertainly, she wasn't sure if she wanted to go. There were other young Draik hatchlings down there, and she didn't want them to make fun of her.
Blossom looked up at her sister from where she stood at the bottom of the hill, "C'mon Dezzie!" she shouted. "Come meet the others!"
Desdamona sighed, but reluctantly slid down the hill, skidding to a stop in front of the group of young Draiks.
Blossom introduced her, "Everyone, this is my sister Desdamona."
Desdamona smiled nervously and waved.
A bright disco-coloured young female smiled back, "Hi, I'm Sadie. Say, you're one of those eventide Draiks aren't you?" Sadie said, gazing at Desdamona's colouring, "You're so lucky, I wish I could sing, but I got stuck with this colour, so I can only dance. Sing something for us, won't you?"
Desdamona's face fell, and she stepped back, looking anxiously at her siblings.
Sirius stepped up. "Well, see, that's the problem, she... she can't talk."
Sadie and the others stared at her, "Really?" she said. "Gee that's so sad."
Desdamona winced, even kids her own age treated her silence like some terminal disease.
A young shadow Draik pushed his way forward and scoffed, looking Desdamona up and down, "Can't talk? Whoever heard of a Draik who couldn't talk? Guess those pretty scales got wasted on you, huh? What's'a matter? Meowclops got your tongue?" He laughed harshly. "C'mon, guys, let's go play Marco Polo. Oh wait, I forgot you gotta be able to talk to play that!" With that he flapped his wings and was gone, along with half the others in the group.
Sadie, Blossom, and Sirius stood there silently for several minutes, shifting about uneasily. Finally Sadie approached Desdamona slowly, resting a paw on her shoulder. "Don't listen to Norren, he's just a jerk, he – "
But Desdamona yanked free of Sadie's touch and raced back up the hill, ignoring her siblings, who were calling to her. She really was a freak, a nothing. She didn't belong in Neopia, she didn't belong anywhere. What kind of Draik couldn't talk? What kind of eventide Draik couldn't sing? It wouldn't have been so bad if she'd been born with Sadie's scales, or Blossom's, or even Sirius's, but to be cursed never to fulfil her destiny because of a random combination of scale colouring and a disability beyond her control was more than she could stand.
Desdamona raced back to the cave and curled up, huddled near the back wall, fuming bitterly.
Rosemarie and Damien hurried over.
"Desdamona, what happened?" Damien asked worriedly. "Tell me what's wrong."
Hearing this, Desdamona whipped round and glared at her father, tears of fury brimming in her eyes as she lashed her tail angrily.
Rosemarie elbowed Damien in the ribs. "What a stupid thing to say," she snapped. She tried to reach out to her daughter but Desdamona lashed out and pushed her away.
At that moment, Sirius and Blossom returned, panting from the run up the hill.
Rosemarie turned to them. "What's wrong with Desdamona?" she demanded, "What happened?"
Sirius scowled, puffs of smoke rising from his nostrils in frustration. "Some dumb kid was making fun of her not being able to talk," he said, scraping his tiny claws against the rock wall with irritation.
Damien turned to his daughter, "Is that true?" he asked, barely containing his fury.
Desdamona's ears drooped, and she nodded sadly, staring at her hands.
Damien strode quickly toward the cave entrance and looked down at his other two children, "What was this 'dumb kid's' name?" he demanded.
"N-Norren," Blossom replied, regarding her father anxiously.
"Right," Damien said. He took a few steps outside the cave and flapped his wings as if preparing to take off.
"Now wait just a minute, where do you think you're going?" Rosemarie asked, reaching her mate and gripping his arm.
"To find this boy and..."
"And what? Burn him to a crisp?" Rosemarie sighed exasperatedly. "Damien, that's not going to solve anything and you know it. Come back inside and we'll talk about this rationally."
Damien huffed, frustrated, but reluctantly he allowed himself to be led back into the cave.
He sat moodily by the nest for the rest of the evening, not talking to anyone. If his mate or one of his children tried to engage him, he snapped, "Hush, I'm thinking."
It was late, and the rest of the family had long since gone to sleep, when finally Damien stirred.
Rosemarie blinked awake and yawned. "Where are you going?" she whispered as she watched her mate's form slip out into the moonlit night.
"Don't worry," Damien whispered back, "I know how to help Desdamona. I'll be back by morning, go back to sleep." And, with a flap of his shadowy wings, he was gone.
To be continued...