Dawn: A Kougra's Awakening
This is a sequel to "Twilight".
"A thousand years?"
The young Kougra's eyes were wide. "That can't be true. Don't be silly."
Beryl stroked her charge's fur with one gentle claw. "Don't interrupt me while I'm telling a story, you mischief. Listen to me.
"Now, where was I before you spoke? Ah, yes. Prince Myndale looked down at the ring that the Dark Faerie had slipped onto his paw... could he really have been asleep for a thousand long years? But he looked at the ruin in the distance, that had once been his very own castle, and he knew that it was true..."
Since the day that Beryl had found the newly-born Kougra cub in the streets of Neopia Central, the elderly Krawk had made it her job to take care of him. She had not presumed to give him a name: his soft-furred neck had never seen a collar, and he seemed not to know where, or why, he had been born. It was not in Beryl's nature to wonder about such things. There was a cub, he needed to be cared for, what did it matter whether or not some human had chosen to name him?
Now she pulled her cloak over the young one's shoulders as he lay down to sleep, his head resting on his paws. She told him a story each night, for one simple reason: it took his mind off the things that might be waiting outside in the shadows. Tomorrow, as he always did, he would play at being a spy for the forces of good in Neopia, someone who could defeat any enemy; tonight, he might not be so certain. In a city full of thieves and troubles, she wanted him to be safe in his own dreams, at least.
"Come on, young one. Get some sleep now."
She lay down, leaving the cub to dream of Dark Faeries and slumber-charms.
"Beryl? What's going on?"
Wakened from his dreams of childhood faerie tales, the tawny-furred bundle in one corner of the room shifted, becoming the drowsy figure of a young Kougra, no longer a cub, but still wide-eyed and implicitly trusting. "It's the middle of the night. Shouldn't you be sleeping still?"
"Quick. Get up. Come with me." In the sliver of moonlight that shone through the doorway, there was an odd look on the old Krawk's face. "Your Beryl's been a bit silly, that's all. We need to get out of here, as soon as you can be ready."
Kougra followed without hesitation. As Beryl threw the last of her belongings into her wide cloak, he was already pushing open the door, quick on his paws as he headed out into the night.
"This way." His guardian sniffed at the air. "They probably won't find us if we head off over here."
"They? Who are 'they', Beryl?" Kougra stared at his guardian in worry. "Is someone trying to hurt you?"
Beryl sighed, pulling Kougra out of the moonlight. She would have had to tell him at some point. "They... are the Defenders of Neopia, Kougra. We have to stay out of their way."
"The Defenders?" He gave her a bewildered glance over his shoulder. "But the Defenders are good, Beryl. You told me that."
"I know, I know." The old Krawk hustled her charge along a back street and out of sight of the main road. "Just come with me. Don't ask questions."
The two Neopets scurried through the alleyways of Neopia Central, from time to time risking a backward glance. Sure enough, the figure of a caped Moehog was closing in, somehow catching up to their steps despite all their haste.
"We should stop!" Kougra was breathless, but he thought he had hit on an idea. "We can explain to them that we're just a couple of innocent Neopians. Then they're bound to leave us alone."
"No." Beryl had paused for breath in the shadow of a tall building, and now she hung her head. "Dear, do you remember that reading book I brought you a few days ago?"
"Yeah." He wondered why she was talking about that gift, wasting time when they were both in danger. "You said I ought to learn something before I was too old..."
"Beryl, you're not saying that you..."
"I couldn't afford it," Beryl whispered. "But as soon as I saw it, I thought you should have it. I didn't think anyone would notice..."
"You stole it?"
The old Krawk tugged at his paw, but he was frozen to the spot, the world he thought he had known beginning to shatter and break around him. What had seemed so simple turned to a maze of confusion. Beryl, who was so kind and caring, was a thief. And the Defenders of Neopia, strong heroes of justice and truth, were coming to tear his family apart.
"Beryl? Was... was this the first time?"
A shake of the head.
"No," he gasped, staring at her, his eyes wide. "It can't be..."
"Stop! In the name of the Neopets Team!"
The Moehog had rounded the corner. With a group of strong Battledome pets following him, he headed for Beryl and her Kougra.
"Oh, no." The young pet's expression turned from simple horror to anxious fear. "They're coming this way! We have to run!"
"It's me they want, Kougra," Beryl said hoarsely. "If you run, you can get away while they catch up to me."
"But Beryl!..." He was lost for words.
"Listen, young one," she snapped, with a hint of fire blazing behind her dark eyes. "If they capture you, they'll take you to a lonely place, a loveless place. I've kept you from it all your life, so don't get yourself taken there now. Go on."
He had thought that he was too old for stories. Yet there was enough warning, enough shadow in the elderly Krawk's words to terrify him into obedience. With tears filling his eyes, he bolted.
How he lived after that, no-one knows enough to tell. Those who might know are not the sort to tell; for it was in the shadows of Neopia that the young Kougra lived his life.
Perhaps he never left the paved streets of Neopia Central. Such a thing is more than possible. Even before one's paws find the darkening path to the west of the city, the capital has its share of wandering ghosts, of street-pets and thieves. It was among these that the lost and lonely Kougra made what an unknowing observer might call his home.
As the months passed, he came to forget the confidence and happiness that Beryl had given him. Fearful of being taken to some unknown prison, a dark world of loveless loneliness, he learnt to stick to the shadows and keep his head lowered; and the nights without sleep, when there was nowhere safe or warm to lie down, left him tired and ill.
Sometimes, he thought of Beryl, though he tried to forget.
What he didn't notice, at first, was that the life he lived was as bleak and dark as any prison could have been. There were no friends among the pets that wandered in the shadows, only the occasional competitor for the morsels and treats that the kinder souls of Neopia donated to the Money Tree. No toys or books brightened up the never-changing days and nights with their variety, and any Petpet venturing near would inevitably be sold for the pawful of Neopoints it would fetch.
Slowly but surely, it began to wear him down.
How long it was before he noticed, he couldn't have said. There was no one moment of realisation when he suddenly became aware that he was barely surviving in his shadow of a life. But day by day, as street pets squabbled with him and innocent Neopians remained ignorant of the fact that he was even there, he came to feel despair. Still, he carried on. He couldn't think of anything else to do.
It was a warm summer's day, the sort that would have brought him joy as a cub. The heat made it a chore to keep running back and forth from the Money Tree, his usual source of food, and every other donation seemed to be a broken pair of sandals or a fruit that had spoiled in the sun.
Suddenly, his sharp eyes lit on an unusual item being donated: a Stunning Silver Ring. The Kougra dived desperately for it, his mind filled with thoughts of the food and drink he would buy if he could sell it. He was too late. The paw of an elegant Poogle closed on the trinket, snatching it out of his sight.
His energy completely spent, he collapsed at the foot of the tree. A clumsy passing Uni stepped on the tip of his tail, but he didn't particularly care. What was happening to him from moment to moment suddenly seemed far away and insignificant. The hopelessness of his life was clearer than ever before. If the young Kougra had been a pet inclined to cry, he would have done so. Instead, he lay still among the Money Tree's roots, his head curled between his paws as if he was trying to shut out the world around him.
All at once, a strange, dark thought burned through his mind, prompted by the silver ring he had so nearly possessed.
It would be easier to sleep for a thousand years.
He did his best to resist the thought, but it demanded his attention.
The only way I ever escape this life is in my dreams. It's the only thing I look forward to, really. No-one would notice if I fell asleep for a thousand years, curled up warm with no need to look for food or fight with the street pets. Perhaps by the time I wake up, things will be different.
That is... if it's more than just a faerie tale.
He got to his paws, somehow fighting his longing to stay where he was, his head hidden behind his forepaws. No-one noticed him as he slipped through the shadows, walking the western road.
The sunlight faded to a soft golden glow as he walked, the last rays filtering through the twisted branches of the trees. Pets and humans passed him by on the road; his sense of insignificance was so powerful now that it seemed to hide him from their eyes. With no interest in the colours of the sunset or the delicate Spyder webs on the bushes at the roadside, he carried on walking, the path guiding him slowly but surely towards the village in the Haunted Woods.
A river flowed across his path, looking oddly clear and picturesque for a stream in such a dark forest. As the Kougra crossed the bridge, something made him pause and glance down at the riverbank. He had thought there was no-one there; if he hadn't stopped to look more carefully, he would have been certain that the bank was deserted. But in the shadow of a small tree, a young girl sat watching the sunset as it reflected in the water. As the faintest hint of magic filled the air, he realised with a start what kind of creature she had to be.
The figure did not look like what he would have expected from a Faerie. Her wings folded, she looked almost like a human teenager, if one with an unusually light build and a slight glow of enchantment about her. Only the strange silvery-grey streaks winding through her dark hair betrayed her true nature.
It seemed she did not notice the soft pawsteps behind her; hugging her knees beneath the tattered silk of her dress, she continued to gaze at the sunlit river. Between her slender hands, apparently without knowing what she was doing, she spun a small silver ring.
"What... are you doing, Miss?" He was half afraid to ask, fearing she'd turn him into a Mortog, or whatever it was that Faeries were meant to do if you angered them. To his surprise, she answered softly, perhaps even sadly.
"I'm sorry," she told him, not looking away from the sparkling water. "It's not me you want to speak to. Go and see Aunt Janina if you're here on business, or..."
"I'm not." He considered. "Or maybe I am. I don't know. I'm sorry. I'll leave you to..."
As the dying sunlight glittered against the ring in the girl's hands, he felt the sudden decision that he should not go quite yet. There was something in her expression , in the way she sat alone... something he thought he recognised.
"Miss," he said again, quietly. "What are you doing?"
"There's no harm in you knowing, I suppose." She turned towards him for the first time, holding out the ring in the palm of her hand. "I'm trying to set an enchantment on this ring."
"An enchantment?" He blinked. "So you can cast them! Maybe it is you I want, after all..."
"It's not a curse or a Battledome thing," she interrupted. "It's a slumber enchantment." She gazed at the ring, her tired eyes barely focusing on it. He watched her carefully, as she looked at the small piece of silver with something that was not hope, exactly, nor quite the same as desire. As the Kougra realised what it was, a shiver ran down his spine.
"It's to make me sleep... for a thousand years."
"Wait." He sat down next to her, staring at the ring. It shone in the red-gold light of the sunset, oddly beautiful. "You -- want to cast that enchantment on yourself? But why?"
"It's all I want to do." The Faerie played idly with the ring, letting it spin between her fingertips. "To fall asleep... and let the rest of the world pass me by."
If the Kougra was startled at the echo of his own thoughts, he tried not to show it. He lowered himself to the ground, watching the sparkling water flow past. "Why? Why do you want to shut yourself off so much?"
"Because of them," she answered, one hand reaching out, gesturing across the river.
"Who?" He tried to follow her gaze, but saw only the wind moving peacefully across the grasses.
"Out there. Can't you feel them? Don't you hear their hearts?" She took a deep, shuddering breath. "All the pets out there who need help. Lost pets. Lonely pets. Hurt pets. There's so many of them, so many. And I can't help even one of them."
"You can't?" The Kougra looked up at her, puzzlement in his dark eyes. "But you're a Faerie! The most powerful creature in Neopia!"
"I'm a Dark Faerie," she whispered. "I was meant to be a child of light, but my life just brought me darkness. That's my burden, and it'll never go away. I want to help them. I want it so much... but I can't even approach them. They're afraid of me. Even the ones with nothing left to lose run away from me. I can't do anything." There were tears in her eyes, and she clutched the silver ring tightly. "I haven't any choice. I've got to shut myself away from them all. I can't take this any more."
Holding out her hand, she began to slip the ring onto her finger.
"If you see my aunt, Janina," she said softly, "tell her what happened to me, and that I'm here by the river asleep. My name is Lumina Averine."
The word burst from the Kougra's mouth with an energy he hadn't known he still possessed. This girl... this Faerie, so beautiful and compassionate... was about to let herself fall into a thousand-year sleep, before his eyes. For some reason, he felt as if he couldn't let her. He could sleep, a foolish, scruffy Kougra whom no-one would miss. But not her.
"Supposing you sent someone else," he improvised, thinking as swiftly as his tired mind would let him. "Why does it have to be you that approaches them?"
"I've thought of that." She lowered her hands, gazing at him sadly. "There's no-one I could send. My aunt and her daughters are Dark Faeries, real ones. They take care of their own, but for helping a stranger they'll expect a price. Fyora doesn't even know what I'm doing now or who I've grown up into. The only other Faerie I ever knew is always busy, caring for little children. No-one else will do my work for me. They're all safe pets, careful pets. They're never going to come to the edge of darkness here. They'll never even know about the pets on that borderline. It's no use. No-one will ever trust me."
"I trusted you."
He spoke the words before thinking about them, not knowing they would startle her so. She caught her breath, and turned her head to stare into his dark eyes.
"I've heard of Dark Faeries before," he went on, unsure what he was trying to achieve by his words. "But when I saw you down here... all I saw was your eyes. The saddest eyes I've ever seen. And I wasn't afraid."
"I... thank you." The Faerie reached up to wipe away a tear. "That means more to me than you could ever know. But I don't know what good it will do."
Suddenly, the answer flashed through his mind, so sharp and bright that he gasped aloud. His companion caught his paw, worried for him, but he shook his head.
"Listen," he said, his quiet voice somehow commanding in the silence. "You're a Faerie with a mission... and no way of carrying it out. I'm a Kougra without a purpose. Send me."
"You?" She stared at him. "But... why would you...?"
"I haven't got a name. I haven't anywhere to stay. I live on the edge of the darkness." He took a deep breath. "I know the stories. I know about the Dark Faeries that trick pets into falling under their spell. But there's nothing left of the life I used to live. I have to decide all over again what I care about. And I've decided that starts with you. So if it's going to stop you falling asleep, then... I want to be your pet, Lumina."
For a moment, he wasn't entirely sure that the young Faerie wasn't about to faint. Letting the ring fall onto the grass, she lifted her head, trembling uncontrollably.
"You want... to be my pet?"
"Yes." He lay down at her feet, hoping she would see the sincerity in his eyes.
Let me save you.
"I would have an ambassador," she whispered, afraid to break the reverent tone of the moment. "Someone to walk the world for me, someone that wouldn't make Neopets so afraid. Someone to guide me through Neopia, so we could help all those broken hearts."
Slowly, she stood up, letting her torn dress fall around her like a gentle wave. As she raised her hands, the tips of her fingers began to glow with enchantment.
"Come here," she told him, almost breathless with excitement and wonder. "Here, to me."
The Kougra bowed his head, and Lumina laid her hand upon it. Even with his eyes closed, he could feel the soft shine of her magic touch his rough coat.
"By my power, beneath the twilight stars," she whispered. "Let this pet be my link to the world. Let him walk the border between light and darkness, in search of the souls I cannot touch. Make him hope's last messenger, love's last haven. Grant him a link to the magic I hold in my heart."
He opened his eyes, and saw two slender hands held out in front of him, holding a softly glittering ribbon. The silver ring was tied to it, and beside it, a disc that shone like a perfect star. There were letters etched into it, letters that spelt a word.
"Loveslast... haven?" He started, taken by surprise. "What in Neopia is that?"
"It's a part of the spell." She gave him a half-smile. "It makes it stronger if I use it as part of the solution. Since you didn't have a name, I made it yours."
"That's my name?" Barely noticing the new burst of life that was flowing through him, the Kougra fixed his Faerie companion with a withering look. "Loveslasthaven? Ah, come on!" He was beginning to laugh at himself, mockingly, but not unkindly. "Can you imagine a Kougra called Love on the streets? Half the Neopets out there will think I'm a girl!"
"That could be a problem, you're right." Her smile was brighter now, as she fastened the glowing collar around his neck. "Let me see, then. How would you feel if I called you 'Stat for everyday?"
"'Stat?" He considered the name, tilting his head as if trying to look at it from all angles. "Yeah, I guess I could live with that."
"You're mine now, 'Stat." Behind Lumina's hopeful smile, tears threatened to fall. "You've saved me. And I know we'll save so many more, won't we?"
"We will." Somehow, the thought filled his body with a bright glow that had nothing to do with the Faerie's magic. "If I've done it once, I can do it again. If there are pets out there who feel the way that we do..."
"Let's do it." Lumina threw her arms around his furry body in an unexpected display of affection. "From now on, neither of us has to care what we've been before. We're going to change the world."
The two of them embraced, outcast Kougra and troubled Faerie. With his paws wrapped awkwardly around Lumina, 'Stat returned her smile, his heart warmed just to see her so suddenly joyful.
"One pet at a time, huh?"
The sun had set with the last of twilight's glow, leaving behind the darkness of night. But even the deepest of darkness has never lasted forever, and at last the sky had filled with light once more.
It was early morning in Neopia Central, and the pets and humans were already busying themselves with their daily tasks. No-one noticed the slender figure of a scruffy Kougra, his reddish fur dappled with the colours of light and shadow, as he slipped through the western gate and into the bustling crowd.
Standing on the outskirts of the city, 'Stat took a moment to watch the busy Neopians as they moved through the streets. The sunlight on the cobblestones and the happy chatter of the crowds seemed more beautiful than he had ever taken the time to see. As he watched, he felt Lumina taking in the scene, too, through his eyes. Somewhere out there was a pet or a human with a darkened heart. And somehow, he would find a way to brighten it. For Lumina, and-- he was beginning to realise-- for himself.
Falling asleep for a thousand years? He smiled, shaking his head. It's an easy thing to want to do, sometimes. But Lumina and me? From now on, neither of us is ever going to be on their own. And that's what'll give us the strength to stay awake.
With his head held high, he walked out into the morning sun.