The Lost Child: Part One
The Torches had come to visit. The twins stood in front of their parents, while Nisha held four-year-old Brandi's hand. Her daughter swayed gently but wasn't actively trying to pull away. She loved that her daughter tried her best to be obedient. She was surprised when she saw a pink Uni pulling the Torches' carriage.
The pretty pink Uni turned her head and smiled warmly at Brandi as her passengers exited. Adam helped his wife and oldest daughter out of the carriage. Amorine immediately went to greet her sister and the two embraced. Amalia looked rumpled from the two day trip from the Haunted Woods to Neopia Central. She also looked annoyed that she had to be there at all but she followed her parents as they greeted the Alms.
Next came Marc, helping Ana out. The eight-year-old blue Bori looked like she had just woken from a nap. Bother she and her twelve-year-old brother hung back, until their mother beckoned them forward. Ana had always been shy and more reserved than the rest of her family while Marc, having been adopted into the family only two years before, still hesitated, as if he didn't quite know where or how he fit in. Last out was four-year-old Angela in a burst of her fluttering faerie wings before the Uni carriage dashed off.
The two families, led by Amorine and Nisha, entered the Alms' Neohome. It didn't take long for the children to become bored with the talk of the adults.
"Mother, may we please go to the park?" Zachary, one of the eight-year-old Gelert twins, asked Nisha.
"Yes, you may," Nisha said with a nod.
"Yes! Come on! I told you Mother would say yes!"
Zach scampered to the door, Brandi and Angela following after him but none of the other Torch children moved.
"Wait! Nisha, is the park safe?" Amorine asked, looking at her sister.
Nisha smiled and nodded. "Yes, it most certainly is. Its right across the way, all of the neighborhood children play there and I trust both Zach and Yekaterina to come straight home if there's ever a problem."
Amorine was quiet for a moment, looking at each of her children. Angela, of course, was eager to go while the rest were silent, waiting for their mother's decision. She saw the restlessness in each of her children. If it was safe and only across the street...
Finally, Amorine nodded her head. "Very well. You all may go."
Amalia followed after her younger cousins, dragging her feet. Ana slipped her hand into her brother's and the rainbow Ogrin looked down at her with a reassuring smile. Zach led the procession outside and across to the park. Everything was going just fine. The cousins spread out across the playground, playing with other children.
Brandi was enthusiastically building a sandcastle, Abacuc, her Nedler, helping her. They were doing a great job, if Brandi said so herself, and she did. The little orange Aisha would stand up, hands on hips, tongue sticking out, to look at their creation. Then, she would rub Abacuc on his sweet spot between his ears, say, "Good boy!" and continue her work. Her mood was dampened only slightly by the fact that her youngest cousin, Angela, was nearby.
The faerie Cybunny was fluttering around her own sand creation. Brandi could tell that Angela had no experience with sand. She couldn't tell what her cousin was trying to build, it all looked like mounds of sand. She could also see that her cousin was getting frustrated. That's when she stopped paying attention to her cousin, focusing completely on her own project.
Brandi was finally finished and it was perfect! She leapt up, blue eyes wide with delight.
The orange Aisha looked around for her family members, "Guys! Guys, come quick! Look what I made!"
Brandi's siblings and cousins slowly came over to look.
"Good job, Brandi," Zach said, giving his younger sister a side arm hug.
Yekaterina gave her youngest sister a warm smile and a nod. Marc studied the sandcastle in silence for a moment.
"I like the sharp edges of your sandcastle. Very nicely done," Marc said.
"My brother has always admired clean, neat lines," Ana said to Brandi.
Brandi beamed in the warm praise, "I want to show the grown-ups!"
"What's the big deal? It's just a sandcastle," Amalia said with a derisive snort.
This comment didn't dull Brandi's glow from the others' praise.
"It doesn't look so great to me," a new voice sneered.
Angela hated not being the center of attention and she was so jealous now of Brandi being in the spotlight that she was practically green with envy. She hovered above her cousin's sandcastle, fuming, ominous as a storm cloud. Her blue eyes were ice cold. The atmosphere suddenly changed and things seemed to happen in slow motion. The Cybunny pulled back one large foot...
"No, don't," Brandi cried.
...and kicked the sandcastle, ruining it completely.
"Angela," Marc and Ana said together.
The Alms children looked shocked by their youngest cousin's behavior, Brandi most of all. Only Amalia's mouth quirked into a split second smile before she shuttered her face into an emotionless mask once more. Angela was delighted by the reactions she got and laughed with pure glee doing a back flip as she did so. Brandi had fallen to her knees in shock, small hands gripping the new piles of sand surrounding her. Then, she stiffened.
The young orange Aisha rose to her feet, blue eyes hot and hands burning even hotter. Angela paid her no heed.
"How could you," Brandi cried, sending a flash of heat in her youngest cousin's direction.
It was a warning. The faerie Cybunny was now paying full attention, pale blue eyes wide. A fireball formed in Brandi's palm and she threw it at Angela. Angela dodged as the fireballs kept coming. Angela laughed at this new game and, to get an even better reaction, she flew speedily away.
This was an attention-grabbing move if ever there was one.
"Angela! Wait! Come back," Amalia called, voice filled with horror.
All of the cousins, save for Brandi, looked at each other with complete panic. Brandi was pleased to see her pain-in-the-tail of a cousin fly away. She was surprised when her brother grabbed her by the hand and hauled her along, back home. Their oldest sister and cousins ran beside them. There was a minor jam at the door, yelling plaintively for their parents.
The children ended up in a heap on the floor. Their parents came quickly, filled with alarm. They had heard the pure panic in the children's voices.
"What's happened?" the parents asked.
Brandi was the first to roll free of the pile and rose to her knees, willing to talk but someone else spoke before she did.
"Where's Angela?" Aunt Amorine asked, voice brittle.
The Torch children rose to their feet, unable to meet their mother's purple gaze. Finally, Amalia managed it, even though she hated to; delaying wouldn't help anyone.
"Angela... flew away," Amalia said in a small voice.
Her mother shook her head, not wanting to hear, eyes closed. The royal Gnorbu swayed on her feet. Amalia's father quickly went to his wife's aid, supporting her.
"No, no," Amorine choked out.
Adam murmured low to his wife, trying to calm her.
"Let's not panic, yet. Angela is only four. She can't get far," Nisha said.
"Yes, let's get out there and start looking," X said with a firm nod.
"Someone has to stay with the children," Adam said.
"We could-," Amalia began to say but the offer died in her throat.
What could the twelve-year-old electric Blumaroo possibly say? That she could watch herself and the others? It wasn't true because she failed. Failed to keep Angela safe. At least the making and executing of a plan helped to soothe the anxiety level in the room.
Even so, Amalia could not help think, if only... If only Angela had not flown away...
~ ~ ~
Vicki, the glowing Buzz, hovered inches above the ground as she moved with the typical Neopia Central crowd. In her profession, she had learned to take any moment to clear her busy mind. So, she wasn't thinking anything in particular as she neared a bench. It only struck her that she something was wrong because she never could manage to turn off her instincts. A lone child was sitting on the bench.
With Vicki's experienced eye, she judged the faerie Cybunny to be four years of age. Vicki looked around. Everyone else paid no heed to the child. She was completely unattended. She was also unconcerned by this fact, playing with her large feet and watching the crowds go by.
Assessment finished, Vicki sat on the opposite side of the bench from the child, who remained unconcerned by this development. Vicki shifted slightly to face the child. This finally got the little Cybunny's attention. She flicked her long lavender ears and looked curiously at Vicki.
"Hello, my name is Vicki. What's your name?" Vicki said, adopting the light easy tone that she used with children.
"My name is Angela Torch. I'm four," the little Cybunny said with a smile and raising one small hand to show her age on her fingers, as all children did at that age.
"Well, Angela is a nice name. Are you lost, Angela?"
"Yes. I wasn't this morning, but now I am."
"Will you tell me what happened?"
"I got mad and flew away."
Here Vicki paused to reflect on what she had learned from the brief conversation with Angela. She spoke quite well for four years old. That meant that she most likely had older siblings or parents who were advocates of early education. She was also clean and confident. She was clearly well cared for and loved.
"Do you know where you live, Angela?" Vicki asked.
"Yes! I live in the Haunted Woods! It's the best place in all Neopia," Angela said, throwing her hands in the air enthusiastically and fluttering her wings.
Seeing Angela look for all Neopia as if she were about to take flight, Vicki instinctively flared her own wings. The child's answer had completely thrown her. The Haunted Woods? The Woods, even with the swiftest Uni, took two days to reach from N.C. Vicki figured that she could make the journey in one day of swift flying but how had Angela covered that distance?
Vicki knew what she had to do. It was just, she had been born and raised in Neopia Central. She had never even gone on vacation before. She only knew about the Haunted Woods through maps and the stories she had heard about the region. She had no desire to go there but she wasn't going to abandon Angela, either.
"I'm taking you home, Angela," Vicki said.
~ ~ ~
The children were restless. All of them were worried about Angela. All except Brandi, of course. She was just bored. Their parents had all gone out searching; Uncle Legend was watching them.
Usually, the woodland Uni was highly entertaining but even he was distracted.
Brandi pulled on her uncle's arm. "Come on, Uncle Legend! Let's go play a game!"
The woodland Uni looked down at his niece. "Alright."
They began to play but, other than Brandi, no one's heart was in it. Finally, Brandi gave up. Even when Angela wasn't there, she ruined everything! Thankfully, Abacuc, distracted his young owner from her dark thoughts. The Nedler always managed to make things better, no matter what.
~ ~ ~
A Uni carriage got them to the Haunted Woods. Vicki didn't feel right in asking the disco Uni to actually take them into the Woods. Besides, if Angela recognized anything or someone recognized her, they would do better on foot. Uneasy as she felt-already it seemed like malevolent eyes were glowering darkly at her-Vicki entered the spookiest place in Neopia. Even the trees were unwelcoming: leafless, even in summer, with gray bark and twisted trunks.
Angela was right at home in the Woods, flitting about, practically beaming as if she were the one painted glowing. Up to that moment, Vicki had still been reluctant to believe that the sweet little faerie truly was a Haunted Woods native. She no longer doubted. Now, how to find out where the child lived? The glowing Buzz was distracted for only a moment but that's all it ever takes.
A Meepit was staring blankly at Vicki and Angela. The Meepit's blank, wide-eyed stare sent shivers down Vicki's spine. Even though the Petpet was small and pink, she could see exactly where all the rumours came from. The Meepit certainly gave her the creeps. Catching sight of the Meepit, Angela gave a high-pitched squeal of delight.
Vicki could have sworn that the Meepit let out a squeal of horror. The pink Petpet raced off into the trees and Angela gave chase. Mortified, Vicki flew after Angela. Anywhere else, the Buzz would have easily caught up with the Cybunny. There was just one problem: Angela was completely at home in the trees and Vicki wasn't.
Vicki was cautious, not wanting to slam into a tree. It didn't help that Angela was also smaller. Soon, the faerie Cybunny was only a faint lavender speck in the distance. Vicki was terrified that she would lose Angela. The glowing Buzz reached a small clearing.
A lamppost was positioned slightly in front of a cave. Strangely, a fog hung in the vicinity of the clearing. Vicki could hear the child's laughter and she moved toward the sound. Vicki gave a yell of fear when she finally caught sight of Angela. The little faerie Cybunny was hovering amongst a line of shadow wraiths at the mouth of the cave.
The wraiths undulated, wrapping and coiling around the child, hungry mouths agape. Angela wasn't hurt or afraid. It was a good thing because Vicki had frozen at the sight. Before she could do anything, a disgusted snarl cut through the air.
"What in Jhudora's name is this?"
At the snarl, the wraiths parted to the side of the cave, clearing the entrance. Angela turned to look into the cave, expression puzzled. A wraith Korbat appeared, looking very displeased. He flicked his gaze quickly past Angela and towards Vicki.
"Who are you and what do you want? I'm busy," the Korbat said in clipped tones.
Vicki bristled at this and struggled to remind herself that they were trespassing, however unintentionally. She took a deep breath to calm herself before responding.
"My name is Vicki and this is Angela. She's lost and I'm trying to get her back home. I've told you who we are now who are you?"
"She doesn't live here... My name is Lure," the wraith Korbat growled.
"I was hoping that you would recognize her. She certainly seems to recognize you. Could you tell me where she lives or at least point me in the right direction?"
Angela had been fluttering before Lure and was staring at him with wide pale blue eyes.
"Wraith," the little Cybunny said suddenly, flying close to Lure and trying to touch him.
To be continued...