A Golden Necklace, A Misguided Heart
A cold wind was blowing, blowing down from the sky that seemed to be in a rather surly mood on this dark night. A Kacheek paused momentarily in front of a grand window, casting a curious glance at the angry sky, almost able to feel the way the temperature had dropped dangerously outside, almost as if it knew what she was up to.
Brista Lightfeet shook the feeling off. The wind could not reach her here, the cold could not seep inside her fur and rattle her bones. The grand brick walls of the mansion-like neohome shielded her from nature if nothing else. She had Duchess Anne Gray to thank for that, seeing as Anne was the owner of this large and powerful home.
Brista caught sight of the Duchess across the floor through a break in the swarming crowd of Neopians waltzing, chatting, and huddled around comfortably in Anne’s ballroom. The Duchess was a Gelert with pampered fur the color of lilacs, sprayed with perfume to give her a similar scent as the flower. Her attire was anything but modest this evening, ranging from her billowy pink dress to the ridiculously expensive tiara on her head. A golden heart necklace winked promisingly at Brista from around the Duchess’s neck while several diamond bracelets slid up and down her wrists as she animatedly talked with her paws. The audience of the Duchess’s conversation were dressed no less impressively. Brista nervously wiped her paws on her simple baby blue dress. It wasn’t as impressive as the clothing on the crowd around her, but it was good enough not to stand out too horribly. Considering that Brista was newly sporting pink fur, the dress actually looked quite charming on her.
Brista studied the crowd swirling around her. Most were laughing, chatting, and completely stuck on themselves. They were all entirely conceited, rich, and too powerful for their own good.
But, Brista admitted, shifting her pink knit purse on her arm, those three things combined worked to her advantage.
They were so blind with the idea that they were untouchable that they did not expect Neopians such as herself to be able to break into their pretty glass world of things that could be admired but not touched, and it was time to use that advantage and get out of here. The air was filled with silly talk by Neopians that had no idea what real problems were, and it was beginning to suffocate Brista.
Straightening, she started forward, only to be immediately cut off.
Brista nearly stumbled back as a Draik appeared almost magically in front of her. He was dressed like a Pharaoh, and, given the usual guest list of Duchess Anne, Brista imagined he probably was one.
With his tan wings expanded majestically, he tipped into a bow in front of Brista, a small smile on his lips. Brista hastily dropped into a curtsy, but nearly forgot to rise again when her eyes caught on something the Draik was wearing. It was a thick gold necklace with a flashy red jewel stuck to its center.
It was Coltzan’s Necklace, a piece of jewelry that probably cost more than Duchess Anne’s entire home. Brista gaped, and the Draik chuckled.
“Hello, my name is Khai, and I would like to dance if it pleases you,” the Draik greeted her.
He offered her a jeweled claw, and she took it, struck dumb. Without further ado, Khai swirled her onto the dance floor, squeezing easily into the crowd of other dancers. Brista was not so bewildered to not immediately recognize the Draik’s superb dancing ability. He lead her in a waltz with the ease of a veteran.
“May I ask your name?”
Brista was afraid her mouth would be too dry to answer, but found, thankfully, that it wasn’t.
“My name is Raine.” It was a name she had chosen for this particular evening, and it reminded her of the threatening look of the sky outside.
Khai nodded. “I only get a first name?”
Brista smiled. “You offered only yours.”
Khai surprised her by laughing softly. “You’re right. Why ruin a pleasant meeting with names and the titles that go with them? I prefer to be liked for who I am, rather than what I am called.”
“A wise decision,” Brista agreed, though she was a little amazed to find someone who didn’t want to throw their name and title into a conversation every few seconds in a place like this.
Khai swirled her in a direction that gave her a perfect view of Duchess Anne and her glittering golden heart necklace. It reminded her to keep her words few, and her eyes on her goal. However, mingling never hurt. If anything, it gave her better camouflage.
“Your first name is beautiful nonetheless. Raine,” Khai murmured, closing his eyes for a moment over the word, “something we see very seldom in the Lost Desert.”
Brista watched Anne over his shoulder, studying her surroundings with a trained aloofness, secretly plotting.
“Most find rain depressing. It keeps you inside, hides away sunny, happy days.”
“Most are selfish,” Khai said, decisively. “Where would the beauty of nature be without rain?”
Brista’s paw convulsively squeezed Khai’s as he surprised her by dipping her gracefully. She couldn’t contain the prick of fear as she was suddenly looking at the ceiling. Khai chuckled as he pulled her upright.
“Not very trusting, are you?”
Brista blinked, taken aback by her knee-jerk reaction, and Khai’s skillful perception.
“What makes you think that?”
“The way you squeezed my hand as if I would let you fall to the floor.”
Brista studied him coolly, a forced smile on her face. “It was just a reaction.”
“Mmmhmm,” Khai grunted, but didn’t force the subject. “What brings you to this party, Raine?”
“An invitation,” she answered simply.
Khai grinned. “Secretive?”
“Private,” Brista corrected. “My business is my own.”
“Guarded,” Khai decided, “and of little faith in anyone.”
“Few give reason to persuade me to have faith.” She loosened her paw from his for a moment to gesture around the room. “Everyone’s only concern is themselves.”
Khai loosened his gaze to glance around the room. His eyes saw the same images as hers, but what they perceived was different. To Brista, there was a room filled with air-heads garbed in clothing and jewels that could rival the cost of a decent home. There were Neopians who slept on silk and ate off fine china, whose houses were guarded with wrought-iron gates encrusted in gold, whose eyes beheld such great amount of riches that everything was taken for granted, every wonderful thing that happened to them was not a miracle, but merely something that was expected. In Khai’s eyes, there was simply a room filled with potential, a room filled of forked roads.
“I hadn’t pegged you for a snob,” Khai admitted, “but you persist to gain the title.”
Brista’s mouth fell open. “You dare? You who obviously know not of want or need?”
Khai’s eyes narrowed. “I know plenty. I am not ignorant to the workings of the world.”
Brista wrenched her paws from his and stepped back.
“Maybe not, but you have not suffered them, so you do not truly understand. Thank you for the dance. I take my leave.” Brista curtsied hastily and quickly turned to disappear into the crowd.
Khai watched her disappear in silence, but his eyes were full of sadness.
The night had come alive with rain. It competed for ferocity against the wind that had escalated to howling mournfully through the trees and around the tiny homes that were falling in disrepair. Lightning streaked the sky menacingly, in a single, thunderous second, and anyone looking out their window would have seen Brista in the short burst of light, but, by the next flash, she had disappeared into her home.
It didn’t matter. Neopians who lived on her street had better things to worry about than looking out their windows. Their troubles were endless, and it was often disheartening to look further than their own door.
Brista slipped into her own home shutting her door against the vengeful night, but she could not seal out the noise. The floorboards creaked as she encompassed her tiny living room in five steps and crept down a short hall. She stood in the doorway of her baby brother’s room quietly, watching him sleep as peacefully as possible. He was a small, blue Kacheek as innocent as he was young, and wrongly plagued by a sickness that could only be cured by expert doctors. Doctors that were very expensive. Doctors that were too expensive for Brista alone to pay for.
But her brother was her responsibility now, and she had promised to take care of him. She would pay those expensive doctors to cure him.
Lightning flashed outside her brother’s window and momentarily illuminated his tiny room. It was enough to steal a second’s glance at the cold, golden object in her paw. It was a beginning. A few more objects such as this one, and she would be able to find a cure for her brother.
She would not stop until it was done.
But three days later, Khai sat in the large dining room of his desert palace alone. The Draik occupied one end of the long table that could sit more than twenty guests. He looked completely at home in the high-back, oak chair, but there was a look of discontent on his face, and his plate of fruit he was habitually served for breakfast was set beside him on the table, untouched.
Spread out on the table before him was the day’s newspaper. The Draik seemed to be staring at the large, bold title of the front page without hardly seeing it.
“A THIEF IN THE DUCHESS’S COURT!” the bold, black letters screamed up at him.
Directly underneath the title was a picture of Duchess Anne Gray, a paw over her heart, looking quite distraught. For anyone that knew the Duchess, the item that was strangely not included in the picture would be easy to spot. Her golden heart necklace was absent from around her neck.
The story beneath her picture explained that it had been stolen three nights ago at her ball, and there were no leads of whom the thief could be.
Khai thought of Raine, the Kacheek who had the look of despair around her, though she tried hard to mask it. In his heart, he could only feel sympathy, though he had known the Kacheek had lied about her name, about who she was. He could clearly see the misfortune that dogged her steps.
Khai traced a claw over the image of Duchess Anne. Her necklace would easily be replaced, easily be forgotten, but Khai had to wonder if the mysterious Kacheek’s evident sorrow could so easily be done away with.