There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 105,225,448 Issue: 209 | 23rd day of Gathering, Y7
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Who Needs a Royal Paint Brush? III: Part Two

by 3dcourtney12044


A number of events happened in quick succession.

     Xrai had flung open the closet door, but her head turned so quickly that Cuni was almost positive she hadn't been looking into the closet to begin with. There was the sound of thundering footsteps, and Cuni heard them stop. Leaning forward slightly, she saw Alec halt at the foot of the stairs. In the blink of an eye, though, he sped off in a blur of yellow, and Cuni had a fleeting image of her sister's furious expression before she, too, had vanished, leaving Cuni alone, quite unable to believe her luck.

     Feeling dazed and rather overwhelmed, Cuni crawled forward slightly, got to her feet, trotted out of the closet, and glanced into the kitchen.

     No one was there.

     Her eyes darted for the living room in the next doorway.

     Nobody occupied that room, either.

     Her heart soaring in accomplishment at last, Cuni bent low to grab the paper bag. When her pink hoof was mere inches away, however, she heard a distant thud, thud and knew, at once, that someone was aproaching the door. And with a sinking feeling, she thought she knew who it was.

     Panicking, Cuni jumped to her feet, slammed the closet shut, and had taken three steps toward the kitchen before the doorknob turned and the door itself swung open.

     "Hewwo, Couwtney," said Cuni in a voice of determined calmness, wheeling around to gaze at the girl who had appeared.

     "Hi, Cuni!" replied her owner enthusiastically. "Listen," she added, avoiding pretense, "the guild's donating clothes to the homeless and the Money Tree and the Pound tomorrow, you know, doing a good deed and such, so anything in your room you don't wear anymore, can you give to me, please?"

     Courtney brushed aside her long dark hair. Her pale face was rather flushed from the cold as she walked into the house, slammed the door shut behind her, and stomped slush from her boots.

     "Sure," replied Cuni. Courtney smiled at her, took off her jacket, and Cuni had a moments' worth of panicking while her owner opened the closet and hung her coat on the rack before closing it and departing for the kitchen. Apparently, she hadn't seen the paper bag at all.

     Cuni breathed a sigh of relief and glanced at the closet in hesitation. It did not seem safe to get the bag at this point, as Alec, Xrai, Snickers, and the Petpets were still on the loose... and Courtney was just around the corner, in the kitchen. She knew it would look suspcious to be hovering around the closet until the coast was clear, and even with the nagging worry about the Paint Brush, she shook it off. Shrugging to herself, Cuni trotted up the steps two at a time, planning vaguely to empty her closet and rid it of clothes she had grown out of.

     She worried slightly, but her concern vanished. She was sure no one would take anything from the bottom of the closet right now; Xrai was too deeply immersed in her revenge with Alec, Courtney had just returned, and Snickers did not have any reason for leaving the house. Besides, he was an inside sort of pet.

     "Hi, Cybana," chirped Cuni, glancing at the Snowbunny, who seemed to be taking refuge underneath a small table in the hall that supported a potted plant.

     The next few hours were devoted to emptying her closet, making piles that turned into mountains of clothes, and before she knew it, the hours grew and lengthened and as they stretched on, the main thought that floated in her mind was that Royal Paint Brush. Breathless, she grabbed a stack of jackets and crouched down to sort through them.

     Her heart always seemed to skip a beat when she thought of it. Who had left it there, and why?

     Her face falling instantly, Cuni dropped the blue, tattered sweater she'd been clutching and her eyes widened suddenly. Blinking and feeling dazed, Cuni sank into the pile of shirts to her right and hugged her knees, biting her lip.

     She remembered two red Acaras, the younger one by the name of Syl, that she had run into on her way back from home from the Toy Shop. Her crayons had scattered in the snow, although those were not the only things she had found on the ground. Apparently, the two Acaras had dropped the gleaming Royal Paint Brush, but they had long gone by the time Cuni had straightened up and looked around.

     Her stomach gave a guilty squirm.

     "Cybana!" she called out softly, standing and cantering out of her room. She skidded to a stop and gazed intently at the Plushie Snowbunny, who was gnawing on what looked like the piece of a board game.

     Cuni bent low and dropped to her knees.

     "Oh Cybana," she whispered, stroking her older sister's Snowbunny, "Xway told me dat dare was a medicine dat could cure you -- "

     Her sister had mentioned, before Cuni had set off that day, that Cybana was losing her eyesight and may soon be blind, but the cure was much too expensive and she shook her head, telling Cuni not to worry.

     "It's so impowtant to Xway," muttered Cuni, cocking her head, "and to you! Wiffout dat cure, you might never be able to see again -- and we can get the cure by selling dat Woyal Paint Bwush!"

     Cybana blinked, absorbed in her chewing.

     "You know, Cybana," Cuni said softly, "I awmost did somefing weally bad -- I awmost took dat Woyal Paint Bwush da day I found it in da snow, even dough I had a feeling it bewonged to dose Acawas." Cuni mistook Cybana's reproachful look, which might as well have been intended for the interruption at her gnawing, and Cuni added hurriedly, "But I only did it because I could sell it and get da cure for you! I wasn't gonna use it!"

     Again, Cybana blinked.

     "So den," continued Cuni, "I overheawd dem, and I knew I had to do da wight fing, you know? So I gave it back to dem, even dough I felt weally bad dat I wouldn't be able to help you --"

     The baby Uni's hoof felt around her neck until it closed around an acorn-sized golden Snowbunny necklace piece that the older Acara had presented her with in thanks.

     "But now," she said, "I fink dose Acawas gave it back to me!" Even as she said it, she felt a mixture of amazement and guilt. "How could dey have done dat, dough!? I mean, I don't know -- dey wooked weally poor, I didn't know, but why give it back? I weturned it to dem! Dey should keep it, it's wightfully dares, isn't it?"

     Cybana's head gave a jerk as she began gnawing on the game piece which Cuni mistook for a nod.

     "Wight! It's not mine! I just can't bewieve dey gave it back! But den," she added as an afterthought, "what if dey didn't give it back to me at all? What if it has nuffing to do wiff dem -- "

     But she could think of no other possible reason for a Royal Paint Brush to randomly appear on her doorstep in a paper bag. She gave a defeated sort of sigh. "Yesh, I suppose it does haff to do wiff dem. But I gotta give it back, den, wight? B-but..." her voice faltered as she abruptly saw the difficulty in this. "I don't know where to find dem! Dey could be anywhere -- I dunno where dey live, or -- "

     She stopped speaking at once as Courtney's voice rang in her ears, floating up from downstairs. "Cuni!" she called from what sounded like the foot of the stairs. "Can you bring those clothes down here, please? Xrai -- if you do that to Alec again I'll have to ground you -- Snickers, come down here too, please!"

     Cuni's felt her heart skip a beat as the skunk Kougra emerged from the room he and Alec shared across the hall from where Cuni sat. She stared at him, her eyes wide in fear. Without so much as a glance at her, Snickers passed and thundered down the stairs with a heap of clothes piled into his paws. Had he heard anything Cuni had said?

     Leaving Cybana to chew on the game piece, Cuni darted into her room and realized with a jolt of panic that she had not sorted her clothes very well. Snatching up anything and everything that looked ugly and throwing it into a large paper bag, Cuni zoomed around in the room in a matter of seconds, reminding her irresistably of Sally from Usuki Frenzy.

     Heaving the bag, Cuni scurried out of her bedroom and nearly tripped in her haste to get downstairs. Dropping the bag so that it slid the last few steps, Cuni took a great leap and landed next to it.

     "Hello Cuni!" said Courtney brightly. She was wearing a navy blue jacket, a hat, and gloves. Slung over her shoulder was a sack of clothing, and in one hand she held the straps of two other bags tightly. Xrai was at one end of the hall and Alec at the other, both glaring at each other and shooting each other frequent nasty looks.

     "Erm, Alec -- d'you think you could help me bring these --?" asked Courtney rather awkwardly. Without taking his eyes off Xrai, Alec folded his arms and nodded, and ugly look set on his face.

     "Excellent," said Courtney briskly. "Here, you take that one from Cuni -- there --"

     Alec bounced towards Cuni, snatched the bag from her and, grimacing, took a jacket from in one of Courtney's bags, looking outraged.

     "I like this one!"

     "Well, you never wear it," replied Courtney. "Put it on, then; we'll be off. Xrai, you're in charge 'til we get back."

     Xrai nodded and slipped into the kitchen. Alec stuck his tongue out after her, put on the jacket and slid into his boots. Slinging Cuni's bag over his shoulder, he yanked open the front door, stepped out onto the doorstep into the howling wind and fierce snow that looked worthy of a blizzard and trudged on. Snickers moved forward and closed the door behind them.

     Snickers gave Cuni a nod and the Uni nervously smiled; did he know?

     Quietly, Snickers departed into the kitchen after Xrai.

     Cuni's blue eyes darted from the kitchen to the closet. Now that Alec was gone, it seemed that less tension would be created with Xrai, meaning Cuni had a better chance of snagging the Paint Brush. But did she dare to do it while Snickers was right in the room next to her?

     Noiselessly, Cuni placed a paw on the closet door's handle. She heard Snickers open the fridge and leaned backward just a bit so that she could see him bent double as he gazed at a carton of milk.

     Seizing the opportunity, Cuni turned the knob and the door swung open.

     Her gaze dropped and Cuni let out an audible gasp, clapping her hoof to her mouth.

     The light above her flickered as Cuni's shoulders sagged and her jaw dropped. She crouched down to examine the bottom of the closet, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. The scene that met her eyes caused her heart to plummet.

     The pile of fallen jackets, coats, gloves and scarves had gone. In its place was the carpeted floor. Cuni's eyes widened, realizing what it meant. She wondered, dazed, between her panic and fear, what a homeless pet would think when he took a jacket from Courtney, only to look in one of its pockets or something and see a Royal Paint Brush...

To be continued...

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