Further Tales of Woe: Part Seven
The wind whipped through the trees, stirring branches that rattled violently against each other. The sun was nowhere to be found. It was a chilly day so far, and the darkening clouds promised rain.
Sophie had never fully trusted that shabby Usul, and of course, the Usul's ever-present optimism had only served to annoy the misanthropic Ixi. Then, as it had become clear that Bruno was fond of Gilly, Sophie felt even more mistrusting. She knew how fragile her brother's esteem was, and she'd made a silent vow to herself.
If Gilly ever did anything to hurt her brother, she would personally make that Usul pay for it.
Sophie's quick-paced steps were drawing her ever-closer to Neovia. She could see the beginnings of the telltale fog rising in the trees about her. It wouldn't be long now.
No, she'd been even more worried when Bruno had sought her out, with that dream of his... It meant Bruno had put Gilly on the same level as his precious Lily, maybe even higher. That was when Sophie became afraid - that Gilly would break his heart, just like the Aisha had. The poor Gelert had barely recovered from that awful incident, and if she could protect him from that pain, she would gladly.
And then there was Reggie. Sophie was somewhat jealous of Reggie; Bruno had been right when he'd teased her about it. She and Reginald had been close when they were little, but circumstance had flung them far apart to grow up very differently. Sophie had been forced to live in hiding, a terrified Ixi child trying to live on her own. She'd made it, of course, but her childhood had ended the day she'd met Ilere. But Reggie got to stay with their parents, live in their home - he was so lucky, and Sophie resented it. She might provoke him now, but she cared equally about both her brothers.
Reggie cared for Gilly, too.
She didn't even know the circumstances - all Sophie knew was that Gilly wasn't content messing with just Bruno. Oh no, the conniving Usul had to move on to Reginald, too! Both of her older brothers harbored such loneliness that they opened their delicate hearts to Gilly without question, trusting her intentions and motives to be pure. But when they realized that they were competing for her affections, Bruno and Reggie had turned on each other.
Gilly's presence was tearing their fragile family apart. All they had was each other - and now the Usul was trying to take that from them.
She'd overheard Bruno and Reggie's argument in the woods. Sophie had followed Reggie after he ran off, intending to scare him a little before they finished their journey. But Bruno found him first.
Sophie hadn't the heart to interrupt their spat, knowing it would be easier for them to work things out by themselves, but... things hadn't worked out. Both of them felt so strongly toward the Usul that they'd rather hate each other - or themselves - than give up Gilly's friendship, for what it was worth.
"And that's all it is anyway - a friendship! Both of them admit that she only wants to be friends! Why is this such a big deal?"
The Ixi shook her head in exasperation, massaging her throbbing temples with a gloved paw. This was giving her another headache... But she had promised. Both of her brothers had been hurt by Gilly, so it was Gilly's turn to reap the whirlwind she'd sown.
As the fog thickened, Sophie found herself standing before the black iron gates of Neovia.
She had arrived. Now, to find Gilly... Would she be at the house? Sophie didn't relish the thought of turning up at her parents' manor, but this was important.
Wait... What was that, in front of the tree? Someone was squatted on the grass, probably asleep. Then she spotted the bushy tail curled around the figure, and the unmistakably orange hair...
"There you are, you little tree rat," Sophie growled, glittering emerald eyes honing in on Gilly's huddled form. Gilly looked up from where she was crouched on the ground, and her bright blue eyes widened in shock.
"Sophie!" she exclaimed happily, but her face dropped when she realized how upset the witch was. "S-Sophie? What's wrong?"
"You're what's wrong, you trouble-making cretin! Do you realize what you've done to them? Both of them are miserable because of you!" she snarled, slamming her staff into the grass before Gilly. The frightened Usul flinched, jumping back a step.
"Wh-what are you talking about, Sophie? What did I do, who's 'them' -" she stammered, shrinking back from the tall Ixi. What was going on?
"My brothers!! Instead of staying with Bruno, when you both would've been happy, you had to go find Reggie instead! Now both of them hate each other because they're jealous, and you can't choose who you like more!" The irate witch stabbed at the ground with her staff's tip. "See that?" she snapped furiously.
Trembling, Gilly looked down at the ground. There was the crude drawing that Bruno had scratched last night, of the two flowerpots. "But I don't understand," she whimpered, lower lip quivering. "I didn't do any of that on purpose - and I had no idea that they were jealous - they're my friends, Sophie! I'm not trying to hurt them, and they should've told me - I haven't seen Bruno in so long, I miss him -"
"Then you should go find him, Usul," Sophie growled through gritted teeth. "At the very least, you need to apologize to him and Reggie for causing them so much trouble. And then you've got to make a choice, or this whole thing's gonna repeat itself over and - eh?"
The witch glanced down and saw that Gilly was cradling the Slorgclops in her arms. Gilly saw her look and nervously drew the petpet closer to her chest, as a protective measure.
"Where did you get that?" she asked quickly.
Gilly's ears fell flat, and she quietly replied, "R-Reggie gave him to me. He s-said that I... that I should have him because I... like ugly things. B-but... that's not true... He's not ugly. I think he's sweet, and unique... It's not physical appearance that counts, I think. It's character, and he's got a lot of it." She ruffled the Slorgclops's pointed ears affectionately, and it snuggled comfortably against her, gargling a purr. Its fluffy slime tail curled happily around her arm.
Sophie watched her carefully, anger dissipated. "So... you do understand..."
Gilly looked up, timidly venturing a question. "Erm... wh-what do you mean, Sophie?"
The Ixi waved a paw in dismissal. "Nothing you should worry about - it seems I may have jumped to conclusions... At least you have their best interests at heart. But I still have a few things to wrap up - you wait there. ...Take good care of my old Slorgclops."
And Sophie strode off into town, patched skirts swirling around her slender legs.
She found Reggie where she expected to; he was languishing on the roof above his room as always, but no books were in sight. She planted herself on the ground below him, stubbornly ignoring the servants and maids surprised by her return.
"Brother Reggie!" she shouted, spooking the Lupe. He bared his teeth at her, and moodily turned away. The servants jumped and scurried away quickly, firmly believing the rumors about Sophie's temper.
"Brother Reggie, come down from there!" she bellowed, even louder than before. Reaching up with her staff, the Ixi began to prod at Reginald's back. Finally he turned and snapped at her, "Leave me alone! I don't want to talk to you!"
Sophie pursed her lips at him, emerald eyes in cat-like slits. "Oh, really? Well, that's just fine, since I'm not the one you need to talk to."
A painful expression crossed Reginald's face, and his lime-green gaze dropped. "I... I'm not talking to Gilly, either, if that's what you mean. She won't want to talk to me now. And... I can't face Bruno... so who else is there to talk to, Sister...?"
Sophie snorted, apparently amused by his despondent attitude. "It's someone else, crybaby. Come with me, and I'll show you."
Stung by the barb, but unwilling to show it, Reggie slowly slid off the roof, dropping clumsily to the ground. Not bothering to brush the dust off of his ragged clothing, the Lupe mumbled, "I guess I don't have anything better to do. But I don't feel like talking to anyone today..."
"Oh, quit whining," Sophie snapped, and dragged him off by the arm. "We're just going into town, and then you can decide whether you want to talk to her or not. Now step it up a little, lazy. Exercise never killed anyone. Come on, now!"
The red Lupe stumbled after his Ixi sister, protests falling upon deaf ears. Apparently he was going to talk to this mysterious Neopet , or else Sophie would drag him by his ear instead of his paw... “Why me?”
To be continued...