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Petpet Name: Accomplice
Pet Name: Acquiet
Breed: Black Gruslen
The golden light of sunrise filtered through autumnal leaves of yellow and orange. A crisp breeze made the shadows dance on the leaf-strewn ground between Faerieland and the Haunted Woods, where a young Eyrie with inky black plumage folded away the last of her equipment and covered the coals of her campfire with ash.
Acquiet brushed a stray bit of jet black hair away from her face with a paw of equally dark fur. Her amber eyes searched the obscure, wooded area for her partner, her Accomplice. The morning mist still hung over the undergrowth and she could hear a mix of Petpets chirping and singing in the distance. The young Eyrie opened her sharp ivory bill and gave out a long, shrill whistle. Suddenly an orange and black ball of fur and energy came bounding toward her, bushy tail flitting hither and thither in excitement.
Accomplice had wandered while she packed up their humble camp after breakfast, but the happy little Gruslen had already started the day’s work. A shining medallion was clenched in her mouth, just in front of her dainty, curved tusks.
“Good girl!” Acquiet took the shining metallic disc from her partner and added it to an already sizable bag of recently acquired goods. Accomplice made a noise somewhere between a whine and mewl; Acquiet couldn’t help but grin. “I suppose you have earned a treat.” She withdrew a scrap of food from a pouch and tossed it to her pet, who leapt and snatched it out of the air before it could arc halfway to the forest floor.
She ruffled her Gruslen’s fur and scratched her ears for a minute, contemplating the price she could fetch for a slightly gnawed medallion. A contented rumbling was coming from Accomplice’s furry chest, but it was time for the day’s scavenging to begin in earnest. She pointed to the west and whistled three short blasts, the command to “find.” Accomplice raced off into the distance and Accquiet spread her ebony wings, flying over a small brook before she came to a promising patch of land.
She rearranged her feathers for a minute and then knelt next to a bush that appeared black, as though covered in soot or shadow. Ever since the fall of Faerieland, the local flora had begun to mutate. Some trees now glowed and there were flowers that sprouted wings or seemed to float in peripheral vision. Of course, here near the edge of the Haunted Woods, the trees had always been odd.
The reticent Eyrie donned her curse-repelling protective gloves, reached past the branches of the strange bush and rummaged through the loose foliage beneath. Such an obvious transformation was usually indicative of a valuable magical artifact in the vicinity (valuable being the key word). Her gloved fingers raked through the soil until they found their mark. The hard form of an artifact was entangled with the roots.
She withdrew the item and brushed the dirt from it. A stone amulet on a black cord, probably preserved by whatever magic it held. A few more good finds and they would eat well for a month, and probably be able to replace her gloves, which had begun to develop worrisome holes. As she examined the surface of the stone, she noticed an unfamiliar symbol carved into it. A swish and swirl of some sort that appeared more decorative than functional.
Perhaps the etching was mundane, but the amulet was not. The bush had now reverted to more natural colors. The presence of the amulet must have caused the effect rather than magic seeping into the shrub itself. She placed the amulet in a leather pouch tied to her belt. Whatever it was, it would sell well. Obvious visual effects were popular, even if they weren’t always useful.
Her luck had all been used in the first minute of the day. The rest of the morning only turned up some miniscule shards of the pink crystals much of Faerieland’s floating structures had been made of and a few broken toys that were more likely from Juhdora’s trash heap than meant for children. It might sell, but not for much. As she flew back to camp for a midday meal, she idly wondered if this patch of woods had already been picked clean. It had been a while since Faerieland’s fall, and most of the larger objects had been closer to the landing site anyway.
Next to the fire pit were three items of definite Faerie origin that exuded minor magical auras. Accomplice had a good nose for magic and had a knack for knowing which ones not to touch. The corners of Acquiet’s beak curved in a smile at the thought of her companion. She let out her long, calling whistle and began placing the items in padded bags. After a few minutes, Accomplice came trotting back to her, bushy tail held high and proud.
“Who’s a good girl? You are!” the Gruslen chirped happily at the exclamation and perked her ears up expectantly. “Yes, you’ve definitely earned your keep today. Let me get lunch.” She tore a hunk off their last loaf of bread, pinched off a few moldy spots and handed Accomplice half. Bread probably wasn’t the healthiest food for a Gruslen, but they’d had the last of the smoked Snorkle that morning, and they’d run out of cheese the night before.
Despite the lack of nutritional value, Accomplice seemed to enjoy the meagre meal, snuffling through the grass and leaves for crumbs after scarfing down the main portion. They were camped next to a clear cool brook, whose waters did as much to quench their hunger as the old loaf had. She’d set traps earlier in their stay, but it seemed the forest petpets had wised to her tricks. After the first two days, the traps had stayed empty, and she’d stopped investing the time to set and check them. The traps had been packed away in her cart ever since. She could have fished for a bit of extra sustenance, but the minnows that lived in the stream were too small to make much of a meal. Without the expected supplement of trapped meat, their scavenging trip had been cut nearly a week short. It was a shame that neither of them were hunters.
Acquiet sat cross-legged in front of her many sacks of loot and looked through their findings, sorting and discarding the least valuable items until she had a tidy collection that would fill their pockets with Neopoints that night without overflowing her rucksack and push-cart too much for the half day’s journey to the shady camp at the edge of Neovia. As she looked up from her work, she started at the sight of her companion licking the amulet she’d found that morning. The stone now resembled cut sapphire, while Accomplice’s appearance had taken on a dark, ashen hue. It was bizarre to see the familiar striped fur of her partner change so drastically. Even more disturbing than her dark pelt were her glacial blue eyes, which had previously been a more common dark-brown color.
“Drop it!” Acquiet commanded, afraid more for the safety of her companion than the (potentially cursed) stone. Accomplice whined and gave her a piteous look, but stopped licking the artefact. Acquiet gingerly picked up the slobbery stone. Accomplice began whimpering as soon as the stone was taken, but didn’t make a move to take it back. “What’s so special about this one?” But of course, Gruslens don’t talk, and she was left with more questions than answers.
Both the stone and her companion had returned to their normal appearance as soon as they were separated. Acquiet examined her pet’s maw and the stone. There were no scars, burns or other obvious ill effects. If it was going to cause some damage, it was probably already done. She slid the black cord around a stick, then around her little finger to make sure it wasn’t a strangulation trap. She sighed a plume of white breath at Accomplice’s continued whimpering. Accomplice had never made a mistake regarding the danger of an artifact before, but that didn’t mean they could keep it. “I’m sorry, girl, but we need food and gear. You can wear it while we walk, but if it’s just a visual effect you’re fond of, we can’t afford the luxury right now.”
She slid the black cord around Accomplice’s eager neck, and watched charcoal fur replace the bright copper she was accustomed to. There was no transition between the two states. One moment her companion was as vibrantly orange as ever, the next, she was nearly as black as her own raven fur.
Everything they owned was packed away on the cart, in her large backpack, or in one of the many pouches tied to her belt. With the sun just past its mid-point, it was time to begin their trek back to the edge of Neovia. With the thought of hot stew to warm their bellies that night, Acquiet tried to keep her spirits up, but the changed appearance of her partner unsettled her, and the little cart she pushed seemed heavier than usual. On the one hand, she trusted her partner’s judgment when it came to magic, but on the other, she couldn’t help but suspect the amulet was more than a fancy decorative bauble.
Her Accomplice was frolicking around the cart like a kit with a new toy, pouncing on shadows and chasing after rustled leaves. As the afternoon turned to evening, Acquiet couldn’t help but smile and begin to relax in the face of her friend’s antics.
The forest shadows lengthened as the day drew to a close. The young Neopet shivered at the cold and paused to draw her jacket more closely around herself. As she fussed with her clothes and pack, her Petpet let out a low, deep growl. Alert at once, she now noticed that the wildlife had become eerily still. Something was very wrong.
Her eyes followed her partner’s intent gaze, which was directed at…nothing? The faint path they had been following was empty before them. Then she saw it, the shadow of a sycamore writhed on the ground before rising up, a savage duplicate of the tree itself. Limbs became claws. Roots became legs or tentacle growths. A dozen glowing red eyes flashed from the risen shadow.
Acquiet spread her wings and lunged at the arboreal monstrosity. If she could, she would grab her pet at take wing, but she was too laden to fly, and that left only one course of action: fight.
With a shriek of fear, she saw that Accomplice had the same notion. “Back! Stay back! NO!” But her Gruslen was too brave for her own good, and paid her no heed. Accomplice charged the twisted shadow with a snarl, ears laid back. The many reaching limbs of the shadow-beast aimed for her companion…
And then they it was gone.
Just like that, the path before them was empty, and she was left to wonder for a moment if she’d imagined the whole thing. Only her Gruslen’s raised hackles and her own sharp breath evidenced the danger of a moment ago. “Are. Are you okay?” She extended a shaking hand toward Accomplice and took a few heavy steps forward before trepidation halted her.
Accomplice turned and trotted over to her, her ears raised inquisitively. The Petpet snuffled at her hand and licked her fingers. The amulet on her collar seemed to glow just a tad brighter, but her appearance was otherwise unaltered from before the short-lived attack. “You’re really okay?” Her Gruslen chirped and rubbed her head against her hand in response. She collapsed to her knees in relief, the adrenaline rush no longer keeping her muscles taught. They stayed there on the forest floor for a good ten minutes before returning to their journey.
Valuable or not, they would keep the amulet. Acquiet’s trust in her Gruslen deepened, and though their relationship had shifted from pet to protector, their friendship only grew stronger.
It would be full dark before they reached camp, but with her faithful Petpet by her side, the cart hardly seemed to weight anything, and Acquiet knew they would be safe.
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