A Streak of Light
A streak of light flashed briefly in the shadowy Neohome on Mystery Island. As the dim flame made its way through the first-floor stairways, it paused to listen to the creaks of the floor above. So far, so good, it thought silently.
A shadow on the second floor squawked quietly under its breath. “How long does Mom stay up?” it thought desperately, watching the narrow streak of light that shone through the gap at the bottom of his door.
Outside, the light swished its tail impatiently. Where was its brother shadow?
East to the Neohome, a ghost Xweetok and a camouflage Usul waited in a small meadow surrounded by wood. The Xweetok glared with glazed red eyes at the full moon of Kreludor; her brother, the Usul, had found and climbed up a rare dwarf tree and settled there to doze.
The light back at the Neohome, which was a fire Kougra, made a face up at the second floor.
The shadowy figure of her brother, a shadow Eyrie, grimaced back through the window that proved too small for him to escape through. He paused for a moment, and then pushed something out of the window.
The Kougra cautiously nosed it open; the last thing she needed was for her to accidentally set the scrap of paper on fire. Inside was a messily scrawled message:
Don't you dare go without me, Lily.
The Kougra smiled up at the anxious face that filled the tiny window and stuck out her tongue. She whispered a command to her inner flame and wrote softly glowing words upon the air:
Don’t worry, little brother. It’s not like we’re going to kill each other – the words faded slowly – especially since she’s a ghost neopet; I can’t touch her.
The Eyrie groaned to himself when he read those backward words. Oh, brother.
The waiting Xweetok let out a CHIRKA of annoyance, startling her brother into consciousness. “CHIRKA! Where are they?” she snarled impatiently.
The camouflage Usul yawned. “Mom’s probably staying up late again, meaning that Kit’ll have a hard time getting away. Lily’ll wait for him for a bit, and then she’ll come.” He paused. “Only Lily’s coming, Sunny.”
The Xweetok stopped dead. “Are you sure, Al?”
Al nodded. “Only Lily. No one else.”
A dark and uncared coat of blue covered the Kougra’s gaunt, ragged form. His blue hide was barely noticeable against the gloomy woodland. Indeed, it was difficult to make out the color of his fur; it was caked with layers of mud. Even the white portion of his muzzle was colored to the same hue as the rest of his fur.
He crouched, eyes glinting softly in the shadows, watching the ghost Xweetok. A growl pulsed at the base of his throat, and he softly uttered a command.
The ghost Xweetok’s sharp red eyes caught a streak of light against the dark foliage. She tensed immediately, hackles rising as she caught the scent of a Kougra. No time to think what’s wrong with it... she thought to herself.
A Kougra’s soul stripped from its body came charging out of the undergrowth. If a ghost could blanch with fright, then the Xweetok did.
Al also went white from his berth on the Dwarf Tree. That... he thought with wide, horrified eyes, that is... but it can’t be.... He stood and nearly toppled out of the tree in his panic. I’ve gotta tell Mom!
Lily loped gracefully towards the designated meeting place. A few yards away from her destination, however, she stopped dead.
“Oh, Ceres Fipaea,” she whispered to herself. “That’s not – not –” She broke off and ran the rest of the distance to the clearing.
Kit, back at the Neohome, paced restlessly, still watching the streak of light that flickered, bright as ever, from the gap at the base of his door.
Suddenly, he straightened up and paused for a charged moment.
Sera heard Kit’s door burst open and shot out her bedroom door in a flash. “Kit!” she scolded, grimly casting a barrier to stop the frantic Eyrie from getting to the stairs.
Too late. Kit was already on the first floor, halfway down the stairs to the ground floor. Sera growled in frustration and glided swiftly back into her room before flying out the window. “Kit!” she shouted before clutching her chest, eyes widening. Why she hadn’t felt this murderous Ruaa before, she didn’t know. No wonder her shadow Eyrie was in such a frenzy.
Kit was susceptible to Ruaas, able to sense them from a long distance. That was why Sera had placed a Ruaa block around his room. It prevented the Three from prying into his sensitive mind.
For a Ruaa to filter through the barriers she had set, it had to be extremely strong, extremely angry, and extremely evil.
Like the one she was feeling now.
Her face tight, she sped off after Kit.
A streak of light hurtled from the direction of the Neohome, regardless of the fire that raced through the trees behind her. “GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BEAST! GET AWAY!” the fire Kougra shrieked at the Azure Kougra’s soul.
The Kougra roared and stopped in front of her, teeth bared, glaring at her. “She’s the Enemy, you, you, you, you, you! It doesn’t matter that you lot’re siblings! Xweetoks’re all the Enemies!”
A burst of dark feathers exploded in the Kougra’s face. Kit screeched, driven into a temporary insanity because of the murderous Ruaa that seethed from the Kougra’s soul.
“Xuwœn ætur!” the owner’s voice rang out as she emerged from the trees, a thick rope of light flowing from her right hand’s fingertips. “Hyqua!” she added, pointing a finger from her free hand towards the forest burning behind them, which immediately went out.
The rope of light shot into the woods where the Kougra had emerged from and the Kougra’s deserted body hovered into view. The Kougra’s eyes widened in shock as he was drawn back towards the light-covered body. The moment his soul had merged with the body, though, he began yowling in torment.
Three figures leaked from his face in a most gruesome way. The owner stared in hatred at the Faerie, Gelert, and Skeith. “Leave, deserters.” They shrieked in rage and instead swooped towards the nearest Neopet: Lily.
“NO!” the owner cried, outstretching a hand, but forgetting to speak the words.
The fire Kougra shrieked in agony as the spirits forcibly thrust their way into her mind.
She growled, a beast of pure fire, and threw flaming streaks of light towards the Three figures that appeared, but they laughed as the burning spears were deflected and rebounded on her. The flaming soul merely absorbed the spears and shrugged.
One of the figures drew a sword that shone in its darkness. Another tugged a bow from its back and notched an arrow, the weapons slashes of evil that stood in stark contrast to the flaming background. The third drew a spell in midair and conjured a blunt weapon, a mace.
“Your land is bright,” they whispered, “but it is the wrong type of brightness. You cannot understand the light in Darkness; we will teach you the mark of despair.”
They closed on the burning soul, and the battle was lost even before it began.
Lily turned to stare directly at the owner, cackling at the horrified expression on her face. The owner could only stare at her oldest and most devoted Neopet.
All the elegance of a Kougra had gone from her body. Her eyes burned with a sickly flame, and it was all the owner could do to watch her possessed pet.
Kit, who had subsided while the Azure Kougra had struggled to stay out of his body, began his fit again, worse than ever. The owner turned to him and whispered spell to once again block the Ruaa from penetrating his mind. Then she turned back to her fire Kougra, but she was gone.
“I’m sorry,” the Azure Kougra said, head down, staring at the ground. Then he raised his head with the familiar grace of a Kougra that made the owner’s heart ache and said, “My name is BlooCoogor.”
The owner nodded slowly. “I am Seraphina.”
“My fire Kougra, the one who was taken... she was blue before I painted her fire.”
She didn’t know why she said it, but the tension in the room deepened subtly.
The Kougra rose. “Can I... can I take a bath? Please? My fur hasn’t been properly washed since... well, I could do with a bath.”
Sera nodded again. “But before you go... how long did the Three possess you?”
“I forget,” the Kougra lied. “It felt like a long time, but I’d say about a week.”
The owner rose onto her knees. “Listen, Cougar, I know when I’m being lied to. And I can tell from you straight away that you’ve been possessed longer than a week. I’d go so far as to say years, by the looks of you. You can’t get that scarred with just a week.”
She subsided and dismissed him. “Kit can show you where the pool is. You can wash off there.”
Cougar had his doubts about the cleanliness of the pool by the time he finished washing, but aside from an uneasy look, he went quietly, ears laid back flat.
She sat in a corner of her mind, eyes blank and a general Ruaa of hopelessness around her. Other victims of the Three gathered around her, but she took no notice and sat dismally, ignoring the indignant mutters of offended spirits as they got too close to her and accidentally caught fire.
“Cheer up, missy. We’ve been here a long time – see those three over there? They are the First Enslaved. They’ve been here for eternity, and they’ve still got an eternity to go. They’re the reason why we’re all here.”
She raised her eyes to give a lifeless glance at the trio: a Darkness Faerie, a Gelert, and a Skeith. Figured. The Faerie had lines of ambition that had not yet faded from her face; the Gelert had a frown etched on his muzzle, as though he wanted revenge; the Skeith gave the immediate impression of greed. Underneath those facades, though, they had the same sense of desolation hovering around them as she herself did.
Her head drooped again; she closed her senses to the overpowering Ruaa of despair that swished around the corner like muddy water.
They would come for her. Not the Three, but the memories of others, the ones that were too far in the Three’s territory for her to even remember.
Her corner glowed with the strength of her hope: They would come.
Her corner became a streak of light in the shadows of her mind.
Cougar discovered, to his surprise, that the water of the backyard pool remained as sparkly and clean as it was before he bathed after he finished. He scrambled out, clawed grating on the stone, and shook himself dry, light hitting the droplets and scattering a streak of light across the rocks.
“Go easy; shadows don’t like water that much,” Kit said warily, hovering a few feet away from the messy-furred Kougra.
“Sorry,” the Kougra replied humbly. “I don’t much like water myself, but the dirt was horrible.”
“Ah, the vanity of a Kougra.” Kit laughed. Cougar tensed for a moment, but realized that the shadow Eyrie was just jesting. “Lily used to, too, when she was blue, but since she got painted fire, all the dirt just incinerates, and she doesn’t have to wash anymore.... I mean, she didn’t.”
The Eyrie looked forlorn again. Cougar ran a paw over his muzzle and hunched guiltily.
Over the next few days, Cougar struggled to adapt himself to domesticated life. Sunny did not help matters; she hated him, with the instinct of a Xweetok and with the prey’s wariness of the attacker.
Another Xweetok had hated him before, and with disastrous consequences. But then, he had a hateful owner, whereas now his owner was kind and loving.... And yet, he still felt that he did not deserve her love.
He felt soiled with the shadow of his past.
He wanted to change it, to brighten it, to banish the shadows, until it became a streak of light.