Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 155,374,126 Issue: 208 | 16th day of Gathering, Y7
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Who Needs a Royal Paint Brush? III: Part One


by 3dcourtney12044

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If you would like to read my first two Who Needs a Royal Paint Brush? stories, please check issues 156 and 176. It may help you better understand the story, but it is not mandatory. You'll catch on as you read this one. Now don't blame me -- this story takes place in the winter, only because it is a sequel to one that was written in winter. And we all need a lift from the agonizing end-of-summer heat, right?

Two nearly identical red Acaras trudged through the powdery snow as the flakes sprinkled down from above. Sylannya, who was quite smaller than her older sister, clutched a paper bag in her paws, glancing at its contents every few seconds to reassure herself that it was, indeed, there.

     "Nearly there, Syl," panted the older Acara, and even though it was bitter outside, her face was tinged with crimson from the effort in walking.

     "Tired," whispered Syl.

     "Yes, I know." Kaunna heaved a sigh and blinked away the snow, brushing it off of her face and wrapping her scarf around her neck. "But we're -- we're almost there."

     Sylannya nodded. "B-but," she stuttered, "winter! Water freeze!"

     "Oh I don't think the Rainbow Pool will freeze," Kaunna assured her smoothly. "It's magic."

     Satisfied, Syl glanced at her paper bag again, biting her lip in excitement. It was the moment she'd been waiting for... the road to this moment had not been a smooth one, she recalled, and more recently they had hit a large bump but overcame it quickly and made a new friend in the process.

     "Uni," said Syl almost absentmindedly.

     "Wha -- oh yeah," Kaunna said, clapping a paw to her forehead as she remembered. Her conscience gave a guilty squirm. "But, Syl, you saw her -- she knew how important it was to you! She chose to give it back." And she gave an appraising sort of nod towards the paper bag.

     Syl halted in her tracks. Neopia Central was quite vacant at this time, it seemed. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see their footprints in the fresh, sparkling snow. She shot a meaningful look at her sister, her lower lip trembling.

     "Oh -- Syl -- " said Kaunna, slightly exasperated. "The Uni wanted to give it back, don't you remember?"

     Syl nodded slowly. "Snowbunny," she said, putting her free hand on her hips.

     At this, Kaunna's shoulders sagged. "I know, Syl, I know," Kaunna mumbled. "She -- she did need it, maybe more than -- than we do... But," she persisted, "don't you remember what this meant to you? Don't you remember who gave this to us?"

     Sylannya paid no attention, although her sister's last sentence did register with her and the words rang through her mind. Syl said quietly, "Kind Uni," as though that settled the matter and reached into her bag. A cloud moved aside so that the sun peeked out from behind it, shining down as the Acara pulled out a gleaming Royal Paint Brush, her paw shaking as she held it up.

     "Mum," she whispered. Kaunna nodded, watching her sister closely as she bent low, surveying her.

     "Mother gave it to us," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. Flakes of snow settled on her face, mixing with her blazing red fur. "But -- but not to give away to -- to -- someone... else..." Realization washed over at how selfish she sounded, and, chiding herself in her mind, quite ashamed of herself, Kaunna straightened up.

     Gently, she took the Paint Brush from Syl, who did not object. They exchanged a nod, and, wheeling around so that their backs faced the Rainbow Pool, set off together into the snow-filled streets, towards a forest in the distance that the two of them knew would take them right to Guild Street.

     * * * *

     "ALEC!" bellowed a Halloween Shoyru, thundering down the stairs and racing around the corner. "WHERE DID YOU PUT MOZE, YOU FILTHY, LYING -- "

     "What?" demanded a rather taken aback jelly Blumaroo as he leaned back in his seat, looking as if he found this accusation insulting. "That Mozito of yours? I didn't do -- "

     "I KNOW YOU'VE GOT HER AND I WANT HER BACK!" screamed Xrai, advancing a few further steps and leaning low so that her own face, reddening even more so, was mere inches from Alec's.

     "Look, I didn't -- "

     "You were in my room," snarled Xrai in a deadly voice. The flames in the fireplace flickered and crackled as her brother leaned as far back as he could against the sofa's material.

     "Xrai -- " began a quiet voice from behind.

     "Stay out of it," Cuni, a baby Uni, advised Snickers quietly. Snickers, a skunk Kougra, had been sketching a picture of Sirius, his Snoogy, but Sirius had hurtled under the coffee table and out of sight when Xrai flung herself into the family room. Cuni, who had been stroking Xrai's Snowbunny and chomping delightedly on a chocolate chip cookie, had let out a squeal and dropped the cookie as crumbs scattered everywhere.

     Cybana seized the opportunity and leapt from her post in Cuni's lap. Crawling so that she was half concealed beneath the coffee table (next to a trembling Snoogy) she began to chew on the fallen cookie.

     "You were in my room, you said you wanted to borrow a book, then Cybana fled from the room and missed a couple of steps coming down here," Xrai said in a menacingly growl, throwing him a dirty look. "I went in there and Moze was gone!"

     "Who names their Petpetpet, anyway?" Alec said impatiently, but pushing himself backward as far as the sofa would allow all the same.

     "I do," the Shoyru said in a deadly voice. "Now either hand her over or -- "

     "Or what?"

     "Or I'll make you!"

     "Is that a threat?" asked Alec, playing for time, knowing all too well that it was.

     Xrai looked pleased that he had cottoned on so quickly. "Why, yes it is," she said in a falsely pleasant voice.

     "It's in the kitchen," Alec told her in what he hoped was a tone that suggested he was rather bored with the proceedings, but really, he wasn't sure if the couch material would hold him much longer. Relieved as Xrai stomped away, he glanced at Cuni and Snickers, who were staring.

     The Blumaroo sighed and shrugged.

     "Why can't you two just lay off each other?" Snickers said, shaking his head as though disappointed and gazing at his half finished sketch.

     Before Alec could open his mouth to respond, Cuni had squealed, "Cybana, NO," and made a grab for what remained of her cookie. Looking thoroughly disconcerted, Cuni stood up and trotted off through the hallway Xrai had used towards the kitchen.

     Alec stretched and yawned. "Ruddy nag, isn't she?" he said, nodding at the doorway Cuni had just disappeared through, though Snickers knew he wasn't talking of the baby Uni.

     "Why'd you take her Mozito?" he asked, frowning.

     Again, the Blumaroo shrugged. "It tried to bite me again," he said after a moment's pause.

     "You should have left it there."

     "It bit me! I wasn't just going to -- "

     "But now you got her all worked up... anyway, what did you do with it?"

     "It's just in the kitchen -- "

     But at this point there was an ominous noise from the kitchen that sounded halfway between a snarl and a shriek, along with a loud clink. "Er, well, I did put it in the sink," admitted Alec quietly as he gazed at the doorway. "Erm -- I think I'll go..."

     And without further ado, in a fleet-footed movement he had leapt up, rounded the corner, and flew up the stairs, a look of terror marring his haughty features. Cuni scurried back in, looking frightened, her eyes wide.

     "What happened?" asked Snickers, putting down his pencil and now concentrating on coaxing Sirius out from beneath the coffee table.

     "Er -- Awec put it in da sink, and, er -- dare were all dese pots and pans inside of it, and, um, well, when Xway wooked in it, Moze sowt of -- panicked, so -- "

     Her voice trailed away and she gave a half shrug.

     The snow outside plastered itself against the window as the wind whistled slightly. Cuni thought she heard a slight thump but supposed it was merely Alec or Xrai or one of the Petpets in the house...

     The doorbell rang so suddenly that Cuni, who had been leaning against the wall, staring out the window and into the distance, jumped. Sirius shot out from under the table and a flash of gray and black zoomed across the room before departing into the kitchen.

     Her heart still hammering from this abrupt arrival, Cuni glanced at Snickers, who had been sitting on his knees but had now lost his balance and toppled over.

     "Erm -- I'll get it," said Cuni as Snickers groaned, rubbing his sore knee.

     Straightening up, Cuni crossed the room, rounding the corner in quite a sharp turn so that her shoulder scraped the edge. Her hoof on the knob, she turned it, and allowed the door to swing open.

     The falling snow was thick. Cuni blinked and, squinting her eyes against the bright white of her snowy yard, gazed at the porch.

     "Hewwo?" she said uncertainly, looking left and right.

     Nobody was there.

     Taking a step out onto the porch, Cuni continued shooting sideways glances at the side of the house as if hoping to see someone hopping up and down, trying to look in the windows. A sudden gust of wind nearly knocked her over; staggering further onto the porch, Cuni felt her hoof come in contact with something below.

     Looking down, she saw a grubby little paper bag. Perplexed, she bent low to pick it up and, clutching it tightly, she shivered in the cold, forgetting for a moment about the warmth of her house some one foot away.

     She realized why she had not seen the bag at first sight; it had blended in nicely with the porch and was slightly damp and snow-covered.

     Ripping open the top, she plunged her hoof inside and felt it touch an object that was slightly warm and felt like wood.

     Grasping what felt like the handle, she pulled out -- a Royal Paint Brush.

     She drew an intake of breath, forgetting completely about the cold and Alec and Xrai and Snickers. It seemed to radiate heat so that her hoof was instantly warmed as she stared, her jaw hanging open. Straightening up slowly, she gaped at it as though waiting for it to explode into a wisp of smoke and for someone to yell, "April Fools!"

     When no one did, she glanced around. Nobody was there.

     "Hey, Cuni -- CUNI -- who's at the door?"

     With a stifled gasp, Cuni dropped the Paint Brush back into its bag unwillingly. She could not even expain to herself why she was not showing her siblings this -- but a powerful urge to keep it quite hidden had taken over, and she obliged to the feeling as it told her to keep it secure behind her back.

     "Oh -- no one," she said lamely. With a last look around, she darted back inside and slammed the door shut. Glancing around hurriedly, Cuni bit her lip and yanked open the closet directly to her left near the kitchen doorway, dropping the bag inside and throwing a red jacket on top of it to obscure it from view.

     "What?" said Snickers, frowning again as he placed a struggling Snoogy on the coffee table in front of him as Cuni reentered, trying to look serene. "No one was there?"

     "Yeah -- um, er -- " Cuni faltered, unable to think up a good excuse on the spot. Playing for time, she made quite a show of slowly walking to the sofa and sinking into it. " -- no one was dare, and, um -- I fink it mighta been a pwank -- "

     "Oh." Clearly displeased, Snickers turned to where Sirius had been standing, only to see that the Snoogy had bolted and was now residing beneath the coffee table once again. An odd look on the Kougra's face, Snickers stood up slowly, snatched up his sketchpad and pen, and, shrugging slightly, made to exit the room, leaving Cuni alone.

     She listened intently, her Uni ears perking up -- she could hear the usual bumps and thuds as Snickers scurried up the stairs -- and then the sound died away. She was quite sure he was now upstairs, but she waited, not moving, for another moment to be positive.

     Her relief confirmed, Cuni made a break for the doorway and threw open the closet, and was just about to dig for the grubby little bag when --

     "UGH -- ALEC -- YOU'RE GOING TO PAY -- "

     A Halloween Shoyru stormed out of the kitchen, dripping with water and clutching a squirming Mozito, also covered in water and buzzing furiously. Without so much as a glance at the baby Uni, who had frozen in a kneeling pose at the bottom of the coat closet, she crossed the hall and left, her shrieks and threats echoing and floating to where Cuni was rooted to the spot.

     Cuni straightened up and glanced around anxiously, listening -- there was no sound to suggest that anyone was heading her way....

     She took a step closer to the darkness of the closet's depths when there was a high-pitched squeal, and Cybana the plushie Snowbunny hurtled out of nowhere from on Cuni's right in the family room, closely followed by a terrified-looking Mozito. Diving out of the way, Cuni just managed to slam the closet door to avoid harm before there was a shriek of anger heard in another part of the house.

     Her breathing fast, Cuni closed one eye, peeking out of a crack in the wood that provided one small ray of light; otherwise, she was cast in total darkness. Her hoof felt around until she could hear the crumbling sound of a slightly damp and crumpled paper bag, but she barely had time to register these noises when a flash of yellow (jelly, to be precise) zoomed by.

     "Xrai -- just leave me alone, I didn't -- "

     "GET -- BACK -- HERE -- "

     Cuni, who felt that between her siblings and their Petpets, she would be lucky to ever leave her hiding place with the Royal Paint Brush without receiving a sharp blow from someone rushing by.

     Xrai was closely following him; Cuni could make out her older sister as she strode into the room. Suddenly, Xrai froze.

     Her heart pounding, Cuni dared not make a sound, but she did her best to back away into the long coats that hung above her. The door was ajar; she could still see a sliver of the form of her sister Shoyru, who seemed to be inching closer.

     "Think you can fool me, do you, Alec, well, not today, you aren't -- you think I'm stupid, do you? Not to look? I know you're hiding -- "

     She was not remotely afraid of being found inside the coat closet by her older sister, even if she was in a towering temper and that it would also lead to awkward questions -- but she did not much like the idea of explaining where she'd gotten the paper bag when she hadn't even thought it over too much herself. And it seemed there would be no way to move it without Xrai hearing...

     "Aha!"

     The closet door trembled as though Xrai were shaking the doorknob; Cuni suspected she was enjoying herself, holding the threat of discovering who she thought was Alec in the closet as though ready to attack. And, Cuni had to admit, the effect worked well; her hooves trembling, Cuni moved noiselessly backward, but the fact still remained that the Royal Paint Brush was in its bag, in plain view as she had moved the red sweater aside.

     Before Cuni could think of a plan, the closet door flew open; light streamed in as Cuni blinked. Mortified, she drew an intake of breath, prepared for the worst...

To be continued...

 
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