One Way: Part One
Author's Note: Here it is! The next Shadow of the Xweetoks installment, not the prologue story. And you guys know the drill with the author's note – this will make no sense if you've read none of the other major series of the saga. Just sayin'. Alright, here we go!
"Keep fighting! She can't win!" I yell, dodging a spiky ball of shadow that hisses past my shoulder. Our only chance is to keep moving and, whatever we do, not let our guards down for a single second.
The winds of stinging crimson dust have stained Lacy's fur rusty, and her crystal-blue ballgown has been in tatters for so long that I don't remember noticing how ruined it used to be. Around the Ixi's ankles, strips of threadbare gossamer lash out like banners from a fallen kingdom. Still, her storm-dark eyes blaze out the same from her worn face.
She spreads her arms, unfolding her translucent lavender-veined wings. With a single screech, she unleashes a tornado's worth of squealing squalls that turn the clouds of stinging dust around.
Our adversary scowls, shielding her face with blobby arms. Lacy's wind pushes her massive, reptilian form a few feet back. But then the wind returns to us.
Our opponent lowers her arms to reveal her scowling, red-eyed face. And she lets loose a single earsplitting scream of fury. She lost her speaking voice long ago.
"Lacy, she's lost strength!" I tell the Ixi. "Give her a decade longer!"
Lacy turns to me, her gaze calculating. "No. Her greed gives her strength. She will not rest until she has... it, and of course having it would do the world no good. We cannot defeat her by tiring her out, no matter how many of our previous opponents that's worked for!"
"How do you know?!"
Her hooves connect with my shoulders as another shadow ball whizzes past us.
"Trust me," she whispers. "I'm letting go. But you'll have to move on. Okay?"
I glance to her face. "Lacy?... What are you talking about?"
"Just move on!" she shouts, pushing me away from her.
She charges towards Benjai, head-first. I see the two meeting in the battle for the last time. I know what she's about to do, but not how she does it. I open my lips to yell for her to come back.
The wind steals my voice away.
And now they're gone. I stand alone, the wind ripping away the voice that is no longer there.
~Eighty-Nine Thousand Years Later~
No Longer There
A few people – well, we'd call them Neopets – lived in a mysterious house beneath a tree. One may wonder how well they got along.
Tense voices behind the shelter of a slammed door.
Swift fists thrown at each other's faces, along with threats that they'd tear each other to pieces the first chance they got.
Hateful wishes to each other as they stomped into separate rooms, the situation never improving how much they gritted their teeth.
Our heroes had none of that.
Maybe they were only heroes to each other, but that never seemed to matter. All that mattered to them were each other.
And naturally, when something happened to one or two...
Life was perfect. Absolutely, positively, unquestionably perfect.
"And then there was that time that you fell out of that tree because you thought you could jump to a branch that was six feet away—"
"Rubia! I had rain in my eyes!"
"Mmm-hmm. You're amusing when you're clumsy."
"Maybe you should quit picking on her. You know she lands on all fours... Most of the time."
"...Aw, come on!"
The crimson Hissi gently poked Faith between the eyes. "Don't worry, Faith... He's certainly one to talk."
Faith giggled. She was a small Xweetok with longish scarlet hair and bright emerald eyes. She wore a plain, dark green dress that didn't fall farther than her knees.
I sighed. "Alright, I know, I'm a pretty big klutz. I'm going to go get some tea."
"Don't be too hard on your wing, remember. It should still be pretty weak," Rubia advised.
"I know, Rubia, I know..."
"I'll get some, too," Faith said.
I blinked, and then burst into a grin. "As if you need tea to sleep for thirteen hours a day."
The red Xweetok smiled and shook her head.
She bore scars – a lopsided cut across the bridge of her nose, a fading bruise on her shoulder, and scattered scrapes down her arms – but she wouldn't have her life any other way.
Life without her... Life without Rubia... I could barely imagine how hard that would be.
But what about their life without me?
We entered the furnace.
Cerulean picked up two mugs from the stack of dishes near the door, and nodded at me to stay put. I was glad to hang back.
His acceptance healed wounds that could never matter to him. Every grin, every word of friendship, and every gentle wing resting on my back... I nervously smiled to myself. Maybe someday I'd tell him.
I yawned, twirled a lock of my mane hair around one finger, and checked for the Creator's presence inside my mind. She wasn't there. I understood.
I lifted my eyes to Cerulean. He leaned close to a hanging kettle, tilting it so that a stream of tea splashed into one of the mugs. And then, the other. He began heading back.
Completely foolproof. He was just a clumsy-ish guy carrying two cups of fresh, hot tea in a place where he could get strangely nervous.
...Well, at least the mugs had handles.
He tripped. Sort of.
He roared as he spilled onto his stomach. I yelped as hot tea splashed on me. But I quickly got down on my knees and asked, "Are you hurt?!"
He was clearly in pain. But the question remained – if he'd only tripped, why was he so hurt?
"Cerulean! Is it your wing? Should I get Rubia?"
I touched one of his long feathers. He snapped that wing to his side, silent. He gently pushed me away, as though trying to get to something behind me.
That was when I saw it.
A panel of blue, shimmering ahead of him like silver. It led elsewhere. I could see that.
"No! Stop!" I ducked in front of him again. He shoved me away again and took one more step.
"Cerulean! Don't! THAT'S A REALLY, REALLY BAD IDEA!"
He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath and let it out. I stepped in front of him for one final time, hoping to stop him.
I knew that wasn't going to happen.
I felt his hands on my shoulders and his breath in my face. My heart pounded with fear of my friend. I gasped, clamping my eyes shut. For him. Whatever this is. So he won't be alone.
He pushed me.
I unsheathed my shortsword with a shing.
The silhouette moving ahead of me remained silent, but the jangle of handcuffs was giveaway enough. I continued racing after him. We were both running as fast as we could. He was doing it for freedom. I was doing it because of duty.
I'm so much faster to begin with.
Thunder groaned off in the distance. Lightning streaked the sky, but withdrew into oblivion as quickly as it had appeared. Rainfall in my fur and clothes bogged me down all the way up a grassy hill, but I was gaining on him.
Finally, I lunged forward for the last time, and slammed the flat of my sword into his side.
He yelled as he landed face-down in the mud.
I stood over him. He looked up at me. His eyes sought sympathy, but found none in my own steely gaze.
"Well," I huffed, prodding his nose with my blade's tip, "Get up."
"Never," the Blumaroo whispered blankly.
I tapped my blade on his elbow as a threat.
His panicked green eyes met mine again as he fearfully pointed out, "You know you couldn't kill me."
"Of course I know that. I know what that means, too. I know what I could do to you."
He cringed in pain.
I pursed my lips for a couple of seconds.
Finally, I said, "Come now. You might get sent away with some mercy if you came now. At any rate, quit wasting my time chasing you."
He rose. I grabbed the chain of his handcuffs and began to lead him away.
But suddenly, I was holding a pair of empty handcuffs, standing by myself in the middle of the woods.
I'd failed. Amadeus had... vanished.
It took me longer than I should've taken to realize something was up.
I closed my book and got up. I hadn't heard the furnace door open for thirty minutes now. Confused, I entered.
"You two doing okay in there?" I called, peering into the furnace.
Burning leaves were piled in various places throughout the room. Various wooden pots and jars hung from the ceiling by chains, and there was spilled liquid near one hanging kettle. I slithered over to the wet splotches on the ground and sniffed. Tea.
The open sky around me was blindingly bright.
The wind howled past me as I began to scream. Cerulean dove ahead of me, angling his wings to catch some wind. A ground coated in spiky white trees rushed towards me. I wrenched my eyes shut and put my forepaws first, as needle-like twigs break around me and scratch at my skin for several horrified moments.
Finally, I was through. My hands touched ground. I rolled onto the ground to break my fall.
Hesitantly, I opened my eyes.
A forest made of glass.
I jumped. The place was deserted. The trees were average size and of indistinguishable species. Their branches were barren. No fruit, no leaves, just smooth glass skeletons.
Cerulean flicked his wings, a few loose feathers fluttering to the ground. He was remarkably unfazed. His fur was still ruffled, youthful face still steely, with a few clean locks of blue hair falling to one side. Muscle rippled beneath his skin, and in the broad daylight, his feathers danced with white fire.
"Cerulean," I whispered. He had stopped as though to think. But I didn't know what he was going to do. What I was going to do.
Then I heard screaming. Not the scream of a girl. The scream of a slightly-nasally voice I hated, along with branches snapping. A shape smashed into the ground a few feet away. I gasped.
"Argh..." Amadeus grumbled.
"Cerulean!" I hissed in the winged Xweetok's ear. "It's him!"
He blinked emotionlessly.
Amadeus put a thin hand to his forehead. His eyes were still shut.
"Cerulean, let's run!" I hissed. "Unless maybe you want to deal with him?"
Amadeus was staring right at me. "Faith? What just happened?"
"I seriously have no idea," I told him, raising my hands into the air.
He kept staring. My ears twitched, and I slowly put my arms down.
"Is this the Creator's Forest?" he asked, glancing around.
He narrowed his eyes. "Are you familiar with Cerulean's guardian, Evre?"
"You mean Evre? Yeah, I know who she is."
"Is she anywhere near here right now?"
"...No, I think we're the only ones – Cerulean!"
The blue Xweetok was sauntering off through the woods. I dashed up to him. Amadeus followed.
"What's his problem?" the Blumaroo asked.
"I don't know! He doesn't hear a word I say! He refuses to interact with me!"
I realized I was venting to Amadeus.
"Let me try," he said.
"Seriously? If he doesn't notice me, he won't notice anyone!"
"He sees you every day of his life. Of course he's stopped noticing you." Then he took a deep breath, and sharply kicked Cerulean in the side. He grunted and staggered back, but just kept going.
I dashed up to Cerulean again, and examined his flank worriedly. From behind, Amadeus sneered:
I whipped my head around at him. "That'll leave a bruise!—Why are you even—"
I shook my head. Reasoning with Amadeus was useless. Instead, I went ahead and asked: "Why are you following us?"
He smiled meanly. "Fine then, you can just run away from me."
My ears twitched. As if I was going to leave Cerulean.
Amadeus knew my deep spots all too well.
To be continued...