Further Tales of Woe: Part Six
Reginald flinched at the sounds of twigs snapping. He was currently sheltered beneath the threatening branches of an eerily green-hued tree, hugging his newly acquired Slorgclops to his panting chest.
"S-Sophie said we'd go to Neovia, not that she'd lead me and abandon me," he hissed under his breath to the petpet. "It was completely uncalled for - I was not being snotty in the least, and there was no need for such rude and immature name-calling. I must say, she's become much more difficult to deal with as an adult. She was much more sociable as a little Ixi, much more accepting of constructive criticism - shh!"
Reggie ducked his head as the crunching noise drew closer to his hiding place. On his own, the trail was wrought with all the terrors of the unknown - vicious creatures lurked in every shadow, and countless specters were no doubt haunting him this very minute. It was slightly reassuring to Reggie to be able to hold the Slorgclops close, but it kept making those awful snuffling purr noises, which surely attracted more brigands than it deterred... right?
Maybe it was Sophie. She loved to make a fool out of him, and he could just picture her laughing evilly at him cowering at her feet... "Yahh!!" Reggie yelped, horrified as a heavy paw clamped down on his thin shoulder. His lime-green eyes were screwed shut in fear as his Slorgclops chirped happily at his assailant.
"...It's only me, little Brother," came a sad rumble. Reggie peeked open with one eye and saw Bruno's hulking shape looming above him. As he blinked in confusion, Reginald noticed how worn and dejected Bruno's long face was.
"I - I knew that, duh!" Reggie quickly stammered, smoothing down his prickling red fur. "I was just, erm, greeting you loudly - what are you doing here?"
He felt rather defensive. It was always strange, conversing with Brother Bruno. His mind remembered how much of a hero his big brother used to be to him, but his eyes always unveiled the mutated simpleton he'd transformed into. It was sometimes hard for him to keep the bitter resentment from his voice...
Bruno winced at Reggie's loud voice. He just wanted to be alone... and out of the blue, he stumbled across his aristocratic little brother, out lost and shivering in the woods. Bruno still wasn't sure what he was looking for, but his sibling's cocky attitude wasn't it.
"I was on my way home," he whispered, "and I happened to hear you mumbling. It's nothing... I just didn't expect to find you out here... Are you okay on your own? I wouldn't want you to get lost..."
Reginald stood, lime-green eyes narrowed at his brother. "Are you patronizing me? Because I'm more than capable of finding my way alone. Were you visiting the manor today or something?" His cream-tipped Lupe tail began to swish angrily behind him. The Slorgclops began to squirm uncomfortably in his stiff arms.
Bruno shrank back, pale eyes haunted by whirling emotions. He didn't want a fight. He never had the backbone for conflict, never wanted to cause trouble - and no matter how hard he tried to avoid it, trouble always found him. Now his little brother was mad at him - what did he say that was wrong? All he wanted to do was retreat, to seclude himself, to waste away without anyone knowing or caring where he hid... Couldn't he even achieve that?
"N-no, Reggie, I didn't even go into town... Why? I'm not trying to make you mad - what did I do? Oh... Your petpet, it doesn't look happy. Try not to press so hard on him; he doesn't appear to like it..." Bruno reached out tentatively with a rugged paw, his kindhearted nature refusing to allow the Slorgclops any discomfort.
Reginald batted his paw away, green eyes glittering with fury. "Don't you touch it, it's a gift for Gilly!" he cried shrilly. "You leave me alone, you ugly brute! And stay away from Gilly!"
Then he turned tail and fled, dashing down the path towards Neovia.
Dawn's light slowly streaked across the sky, filling the forest with pale warmth, washing it with gentle colours. Bruno's face was immobile, a cold mask of grief and pain. The hunchback muttered to himself, "But I did stay away from Gilly! I tried that already! I'm hated no matter what I do, and I don't deserve happiness anyway! Just leave me alone... Everyone, just let me be alone... Stop hating me, and stop pitying me, too... I didn't do anything wrong..."
The hulking Gelert tilted his face up to the sky in despair, allowing the sunrise to colour his misshapen muzzle. The pale sunlight glinted off of his glossy violet hair, spreading warmth across his imbalanced proportions.
"If I have no place in this world... why does the world keep calling me so? If Reggie doesn't believe I'm avoiding Gilly... then why should I try to? I might as well become the selfish, self-absorbed personality that everyone expects of me, and try to find some enjoyment, some closure... I want to see Gilly so badly. I suppose... it's because she doesn't hate me for the trouble I've caused her... and she thinks so highly of me. It's selfish of me, really... I force my problems onto her, because she can always make me happy. But I can't do that for Lily - I could only drag her down with me..."
He shook his head, rubbing his tired eyes with a wide paw. "I don't know what to do with myself anymore, not that I ever did. I guess... I should head back to Neovia... to sort things out once and for all. Things can't go on like this."
"Is that you, Bruno?!" Gilly cried with hopeful excitement, springing to her feet when she saw a figure emerging from the thinning mists.
Reginald stood before her, a pitiful expression on his crestfallen face.
"Gilly, you..." he trailed off, a hurt look in his lime-green eyes. "That's who you wanted to see...?"
Gilly bit her lip, bright blue eyes fluttering anxiously. "Oh, no, Reggie, it's not like that! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings - where did you go, anyway? I was so worried about you!"
She wrung her paws before her, painfully aware of the tension between them. What had happened to the pleasant, attentive Reginald she'd known before? Reggie's clothes were a mess, and he looked absolutely drained. What had exhausted him so, both physically and mentally?
Reginald stood stiffly on the pathway, gazing sadly at Gilly. He'd felt a terrible guilt for yelling at Bruno - he knew just how fragile his brother's psyche was, and he knew he'd been cruel to say mean things - but now, that guilt was fading into something else... Regret, and jealousy.
Reggie had wondered - where had that anger arisen from? Truly, Brother Bruno had done him no wrong - and hadn't even mentioned Gilly's name. Why did Reggie bring her into the spat? He'd suddenly felt so... rankled, by Bruno's very presence - as though his brother was a threat to him somehow.
Oh... I think... I understand why Sophie called me out-of-touch. I read about so many emotions, but don't recognize them when I actually experience them for myself... I'm jealous of Brother Bruno... because he's closer to Gilly than I am... I yelled at him, because I'm afraid of losing her to him... But that's silly, since we're just friends anyway. It wouldn't matter if he came to visit her...
Did he come to visit her...?
His dull lime-green gaze dropped to the Slorgclops in his arms, fast asleep. He wondered briefly when he'd decided the petpet was a gift for Gilly, but somehow it all made sense now.
"H... Here," he said dully, thrusting the Slorgclops into Gilly's startled arms. "This is for you - you seem to like ugly things..."
Then he turned on his heel and dashed down the street, running for the sanctuary of his home, unable to stop the sudden tears from welling up in his eyes. His subconscious fears had come true - Gilly liked Bruno more than him. He'd lost to his older brother again.
Midday was approaching - it was cloudy and cool, with a chill breeze blowing in from the north. Perhaps it would rain soon. In any case, the sky was a dull grey, and the sun was firmly hidden beneath its shelter of fog.
Sophie stalked up the path to Neovia, viridian hair streaming freely behind her, knuckles turning white with the force she was gripping her staff.
The Swamp Witch was angry.
It was never a good idea to make the witch angry - she had a very short temper to begin with, and a low tolerance for Neopets in general. Usually those who made her mad suffered whatever fate her staff chose for them - to live life as a Slorg was her favourite punishment, but she could easily transform irritants into whatever she wanted to. A tree might be nice. Perhaps a stone, or a plushie, depending on the extent of their transgression.
At the moment, she was trying to decide what to do with Gilly.
To be continued...