Further Tales of Woe: Part Eight
Reginald stood anxiously by the stone fountain, worried lime-green eyes scanning the streets. It was a chilly afternoon, but the fierce winds were shearing through the clouds like wool, slowly freeing a path for the sun to emerge from.
"Sophie told me to wait here! Where has she gotten to?"
The Lupe heard someone approaching from behind him, and turned quickly. It was a tall Aisha, gliding serenely across the cobbled street like a specter. He turned away, not thinking twice about it. He'd seen that Aisha wandering through town plenty of times before. Now, where was Sophie?
"Excuse me, sir," a feminine voice drawled softly. Reggie blinked in surprise, turning to face the Aisha. Up close, he realized she was beautiful... in a sad way. Her thin face seemed worn by years of sadness, but still had a noble air about it, like a princess. Her long silken hair was a very light shade of gold, almost white - but she didn't look much older than Sophie, really.
The Aisha's small paw toyed with a faded ribbon around her slender neck, drawing out a tiny metal locket. It had once been gold, but time had worn off chips of the plating, leaving behind a mottled steel colour.
"I was told to meet you here, by an Ixi who called you her brother. Are you called Reginald...?"
Reggie nodded, brows furrowed skeptically. What was Sophie thinking? He had no idea who this Aisha was. He knew her face, to be sure; he'd always thought she looked lovely, and lonely. But they'd never spoken before, and he didn't think she knew him, so why...?
"Then... you're Bruno's little brother, right?" she continued, not seeing the way Reggie bristled at the mention of his brother. Stiffly, Reggie nodded another agreement.
"I... I need to apologize to you," she said unexpectedly. Reginald blinked at her, watching her gracefully take a seat beside him. Her faded crimson and white silk dress made a swishing noise against the hard stone basin.
"My name is Lily... No doubt your brother has spoken of the horrible wrong I did him, so long ago." She bowed her head, pale hair cascading into her lap, where her small paws fidgeted nervously. Reggie swallowed, answering hesitantly. He found himself not wanting to displease the enigmatic beauty.
"Yes... He's mentioned you before, plenty of times - but never in a bad way. He... he could never hate you, milady. He's too kindhearted to blame anyone but himself." Reggie stared at the ground, lime-green eyes distant. He wasn't as kind as Bruno. He had to accept that he could not take Bruno's place, not ever... He had to be himself.
Lily slowly turned her gaze on the Lupe, long eyelashes fluttering delicately. "You... My apologies, Sir Reginald. You look a lot like Bruno did once... You have the same sad, noble profile." Her eyes filled with tears.
"Ah!" Reggie exclaimed helplessly, concern written all over his face. "I - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to - Wh-what can I do? Should I go away? Miss Lily -"
"No, please stay!" she said quickly, trying unsuccessfully to stem the flowing tears. "I didn't mean to break down, it's just - I - I've been so selfish for years, I'm a terrible person, and you - you have more than enough right to hate me, for what I brought upon your family, and you - you're so kind to me...!"
Startled, Reginald stared at the Aisha. But - he wasn't a kind Lupe; he was the most selfish Neopet he knew! Even Sophie looked after her kin, instead of driving them away like he did...
"Um, Miss Lily, there's really nothing to keep apologizing for. The past is the past... It can't be changed."
Lily smiled lopsidedly, wiping the trickling tears halfheartedly. "I'm a bit of a crybaby, I'm afraid - but what you say makes perfect sense, Sir Reginald. I used to be a very spoiled Neopet, with a great deal of money, and a high and mighty attitude... I looked down on many others simply for their social status. But after the curse, my fortunes were gone - completely wiped out by the reparations that the town required to rebuild. I've had nowhere to go since... I've simply wandered around the town, too frightened to leave, to weak to change..."
Reggie swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat. She sounded... so much like himself.
"Miss Lily, I... I wonder if you'd feel comfortable staying in my house. You see, our family has a large manor house, but so many empty rooms... It gets very lonely with no one to talk to. And my parents are always happy to extend their courtesy to those who need it."
She bit her lip, fidgeting with the chipped locket about her neck. "But I could never impose, Sir Reginald. I would hate to force your family into giving me charity..."
"Nonsense, milady," he put in quickly. "It's not charity - I don't feel pity towards you... Rather, a kinship. I believe we have a lot in common."
Suddenly Reggie blushed, realizing that he sounded too forward. Eager to change the subject, he chose a topic at random.
"Erm - your locket! It looks rather... weathered. Is there a story behind it?"
Lily smiled at him, opening the clasp to reveal the inside. "It's empty. A long time ago, when I was a little Aisha, I found it hanging on the iron gates outside of town. I decided that I would wear it for as long as I had to - until I found the perfect Neopet, and then I could carry their picture with me wherever I went. It was a silly fancy, but for some reason, I never wanted to give that up... So I've continued to wear it."
Reggie smiled back at her, feeling a warmth inside of him that began to melt away the frozen rejection he'd been fostering within.
Thanks, Sophie... I guess things might work out in the end after all...
"Come with me," he said, bowing gallantly to the Aisha, before delicately taking her soft paw. "I shall give you a tour of your new home!"
Bruno trundled through the thick undergrowth of the forest, halfheartedly pushing the branches out of his way. He'd made up his mind. He would go to Neovia, and apologize to everyone for being such a burden. Then he would tell them all - his parents, Reginald, Gilly, and Lily... that he would be going away, far away. They shouldn't go looking for him, because that would only cause them more trouble.
Besides, things were better when he was alone. There were no one’s feelings to worry about but his own.
"Almost there," he grunted, climbing over a large stone. There was the path before him. As he reached it, he took a deep breath, squaring his mismatched shoulders. "You can do this, Bruno," he coached himself aloud. "It's for their own good. They'll understand. All I have to do is tell them -"
He stopped when he saw the iron gates looming above him. He was closer to the town than he'd thought... He swallowed with an audible 'gulp', rugged paws beginning to fiddle with his tattered suit. "It's not that easy..." he whispered, nervous gaze darting back and forth in the rolling grey fog. "Maybe I can get Sophie to tell them...? I think I'm going to turn back... Hm?"
His long ears had caught a sound behind him. Awkwardly, the hunchback Gelert turned around, pale green eyes squinting to make out a shape in the fog.
"Bruno!" came a joyful squeal.
Gilly the Usul sprang up from where she'd been patiently waiting, and threw her arms around his neck in an ecstatic embrace. "I missed you so much, Bruno! How have you been? Are you all right? I heard you fought with Reggie - I'm so sorry if it was my fault!"
Bruno's mismatched eyes fluttered, suddenly staring into twin pools of cerulean. Blushing with surprise, he gently pried her thin arms from his neck. "G... Gilly," he began nervously. How could he tell her...? How could he say that he was going to leave her behind... again?
As he stared down at his feet, he noticed a little petpet was at Gilly's heels. It was the dull green shades of a Slorg, but had the lone bright eye of a Meowclops, along with the curled tail and tiny paws. It had to be the same one he'd seen at Sophie's house, but why did Gilly have it now?
Gilly saw him looking and smiled curiously at him. She knelt and scooped up the petpet, cuddling it tenderly before holding it out for examination. "This is my new friend, the Slorgclops! He looks a little funny, but he's really sweet. He's a very special guy, and he means the world to me... Does he remind you of anyone?"
Bruno stared at Gilly, pale eyes wide. He was unable to say anything - what was she implying? Somehow he found it impossible to tell her his plans to leave. Perhaps he could stay a little longer... He knew he'd miss her no matter what, especially if she was staying with Reggie...
"Um - I picked these for you, Bruno!"
Gilly's gloved paw fished around in her hand sewn pockets, before pulling out a ragged trio of daisies.
"A little odd, I know - but I recently found out that there's a kind of daisy called a gillyflower. Isn't that cool? I never knew I was named after a flower! And it even fits, too - since daisies are really common, and not that much to look at -"
"- But they're wonderful once you're close to them," Bruno finished, quietly accepting the flowers. "Gilly... I... I wanted to know if..."
His nerve began to fail him, and his spiked tail whipped back and forth anxiously. Finally he gritted his teeth, and said loudly, "I wanted to know if you'd like to come with me! I... y'see, I'm going to be travelling a bit, and, well... It would be lonely if I went by myself," he finished timidly.
Gilly was silent for a moment, and Bruno ducked his head in embarrassment. "It's fine, you don't have to if you don't want -"
"No, no, I do! I'd love to go along with you, Bruno! I was just thinking how wonderful this is - a gentle and kind Gelert such as yourself is willing to put up with an annoyingly cheerful Usul like me!" She giggled, taking his wide paw in her own. "I would be very very happy to travel with you, Bruno... Thank you."
Sophie stood on the porch of her cabin, a Meowclops tucked comfortably under her arm. It was good to be home again... and everything had worked out for the better.
The tall Ixi stepped through the doorway, setting the playful kitten onto the rug, before settling on her creaky old chair. It wobbled for a moment, before it finally gave up and collapsed, depositing Sophie onto the floor in a pile of splintered wood.
She sat for a moment, dazed and surprised. Then she threw back her head and began to laugh. She laughed and laughed, until tears of merriment streamed from her eyes. It felt good to finally relax and let loose, Sophie thought with a big grin.
Especially because no one was there to see her.