Voice of the Neopian Pound Circulation: 191,440,698 Issue: 544 | 11th day of Hunting, Y14
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Hiding the Clockwork Negg: Part Two


by seiya_from_ashes

--------

Voughn had made it a habit to wake her up just to talk. Tonight was no exception, despite having never showed up the rest of the day.

     "Did I miss anything?"

     "Where were you?" Rutu hissed. "We thought you ran away!"

     His laugh grumbled in his throat. "Naw, I just walked 'round for a bit. Thinking things."

     "Well, while you were 'thinking things,' I think just about everybody started contemplating breaking up and heading home! Especially when you didn't show up!"

     Voughn's grin faltered. "Hey, Ricky wouldn't do that, I know him. An' Hurok's too stuffy t' not go through with it. Selvin'd just do it just to show us up. And you wouldn't give up, right?"

     "I pride myself on keeping my word," Rutu replied stiffly. "I'm just surprised you seem to think you know us so well."

     "Well, maybe if you made an effort at conversation..."

     "Yeah? It's just a job. We'll never see each other again after this, so who cares?"

     Voughn rubbed his chin. "I think we need a break from this whole negg business."

     "A break? A break? We didn't even start! We've been here for over a week, trying to organize things, and the only thing we've decided is that Hurok's going to Brightvale with the glass one! That's it!"

     Voughn nodded. "Yeah, so we need a break. Just gotta calm down."

     "Yeah? And what do we do? Converse? Get to know each other? I already know all I want. Selvin's picky, Ricky's touchy, and Hurok's got his nose so high he probably hits it on low-hanging branches wherever he goes!"

     Voughn laughed. "Yeah, he does."

     Rutu tried to glare at him, but it seemed to unfazed him in the dark. So she laid her head down pointedly. "I'm going to sleep."

     "What about me?"

     Rutu sighed inwardly, but looked up again. "What?"

     "What do you think about me?"

     "You're boorish and a jerk," she snapped.

     "...Oh."

     Ignoring the wistful tone of his voice, ignoring the guilt clutching hold of her guts, she lay down again and pretended to sleep.

     "...I think you're smart," said Voughn softly. "But you're shy. You don't dislike people or conversation, but you don't like confrontations or being personal. You like seeing new places and learning new things. You're private and don't share things easily. You imagine yourself saying and doing things, but you barely do any of that 'cause you're afraid of looking stupid or cruel. You find it hard to say no to people so you usually just try to go along with what they say."

     Rutu waited a few seconds before raising her head again.

     "How'd you know all that?"

     Voughn shrugged. "Back me up tomorrow, okay?"

     "Back you up about what?" she repeated, but the Kau was already heading off to sleep.

     Rutu lay down again, wishing that she could have apologized for earlier. She also admitted that... well, she was very wrong about Voughn. He was a lot more perceptive than she gave credit for, and he was more than just a loud, obnoxious –

     He was snoring again.

     Rutu stared at the sky for a minute before opting to move to the far side of the clearing instead.

     ***

     "So we still have three neggs to assign, as well as three hiding spots," said Hurok over breakfast. Rutu marveled at how easily the knight could ignore any drama that had gone on, as well as the tension still storming between Ricky and Selvin.

     She glanced towards Voughn over her journal. He caught her eye and gave a thumbs-up before bellowing, "Hey Hurok, I gotta idea."

     The knight immediately held a hand to his brow and muttered, "I don't like the sound of that..."

     "Let's forget about this whole negg business, huh?"

     Even Selvin and Ricky paused in their silently passive-aggressive battle to stare at the Kau.

     "We can't," said Hurok very testily. "And I do not want anybody to suggest that ever again."

     "Oh, no, ha, no, I don't mean it like that," Voughn laughed, waving a hoof. "I mean let's start over. Forget it, y'know? Pretend we're just starting out or something. But not as strangers or anything, see? We're a team, aren't we?"

     Hurok took a moment to massage his head before replying. "We've wasted enough time already. We should have decided a week ago. Let's just focus on that and – "

     "'Cept we're not going anywhere like this at all," Voughn interrupted. "I'm sure you've noticed that, right?"

     "...So we approach from a different direction," Rutu murmured, not meaning to be heard, but was heard nevertheless.

     "Right, exactly!"

     Hurok scowled, realizing that he may soon be outnumbered. "I don't see how this – "

     "Fer instance, where d'ya come from, Hurok?"

     Taken aback, Hurok could only automatically respond, "Shenkuu, actually."

     Rutu's ears perked up. "Really?"

     "Well, yes, but I moved away when I was rather young and trained at Mystery Island before becoming a knight of the Brightvale guard."

     Voughn nodded. "So, taking the glass negg home, then?"

     "Just to make it absolutely clear," he said stiffly, "my duties would still interfere with the task of guarding the clockwork negg so I still couldn't – "

     "Calm down, nobody was thinking anything like that. How 'bout you, Ricky?"

     Selvin, speaking more to her plate than to anybody, coughed and muttered, "Kiko Lake..."

     "No," Ricky snapped back. "Not all Kikos are from Kiko Lake! I'm from Meridell, if you must know, and I'm very respected as a blacksmith there!"

     "I'm sure," Voughn replied, and Ricky spun towards him, looking for any hint of sarcasm in the Kau's face. There was only sincerity. "So, you only make weapons, or what?"

     The Kiko shrugged. Rutu watched the process with amazement. "Yeah, I do swords and stuff, but a lot of what I do is more practical. Or artistic. I mean, we don't always make tools of war."

     "Yeah, 'course. You know, speaking of that, I've always wondered what wizards actually do."

     Feeling four pairs of eyes upon her, Selvin withered a little before acting flippant. "Study. Sell potions, if you specialize in that. I like being a mercenary myself. Sitting in front of a cauldron all day isn't my idea of fun."

     "Work's not supposed to be fun," said Hurok from across the ashes. "It's work."

     Ricky stifled a scoff. "So you think enforcing the law is boring?"

     On the other hand, Selvin couldn't contain her laughter at all. "With a philosophy like that, no wonder you're so humorless!"

     "Prim an' proper," Voughn offered, smiling wildly before growing into a chuckle the more flustered Hurok got.

     "I'm only saying you should take your obligations seriously!" he finally spouted out. "It wouldn't make sense for me to find fun in, in paperwork or imprisoning thieves, or..."

     "Don't you at least get satisfaction? That's the fun of work, you know, satisfaction. You know, like crafting delicate wirework..."

     "...or getting paid for a dangerous job..."

     "...or finishing a grand journey!" Voughn finished.

     Hurok rolled his eyes. "Being an explorer isn't real work."

     "Oh really?" Voughn challenged, folding his arms with hefty airs. "I've travelled absolutely everywhere, mostly with just my own two feet, with a heavy pack chaffing my back an' th' sun bearing down, going places nobody else dared to go just for th' thrill of it, despite warnings, despite dangers, despite my own fear, and you know what?" The Kau leaned forward, his eyes stiffened into a glare. Hurok matched his gaze. The others started edging away uncomfortably until Voughn's face cracked into his usual wide grin. "I still have fun with it."

     He laughed as Hurok gave an exasperated sigh. "Look," said the knight, "I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun with your work, I'm just saying that work isn't supposed to be fun. I'm sure having fun is great – "

     " – like you would know," giggled Ricky, and Selvin burst into uncontrollable guffaws.

     " – having fun in your work is great," Hurok repeated through gritted teeth, "but work is work. I work in the name of the king, and I do so with the respect it asks of me. That's all."

     There was a pause as everybody focused on Rutu. "What about you?"

     "Um. What?" Rutu replied, tugging at her scarf a bit.

     "What do you think about being a botanist or whatever?"

     "Well, um..." she hesitated, avoiding their eyes. "You know, I just... like plants. Plants are, uh, cool. So I guess I don't... really see it as... work or anything."

     "Ah-HAH," Voughn shouted, pointing dramatically at Hurok with both arms. "See that? Everybody agrees! You, my good man, are a guy in desperate need of fun!"

     "It's not like I don't have fun all the time," the Acara protested, now waving his arms about. "It's just that most of my time is devoted to work! I'm only even here because my superior insisted that I needed a vacation and I was bored!"

     Rutu couldn't help it. She laughed so hard she fell over. Selvin helped her up, struggling to hold in her own mirth as well, and between wheezes Rutu tried to apologize. But whenever she looked at Hurok's face, she just exploded into laughter again.

     ***

     At night, Voughn caught her sitting by the fire, slowly ripping pages out of her journal.

     "What're you doing that for?"

     "Well," she said, ripping out another, "you did say we should start over."

     He laughed. It seemed to shake trees. "I guess so. Hey – " he said, abruptly catching her arm. "What're you doing?"

     Rutu stared at him, holding the pages over the fire. "Um. Burning them?"

     "Don't," he said, and she couldn't help but oblige that serious tone.

     "Well, I don't really want to just keep them. They're useless right now, really."

     "I wouldn't mind having them," he said.

     Rutu felt her eyes flicker downwards. "They're, uh, not even interesting, though. I didn't... really... I mean I didn't even write anything... private, really... it's just..."

     "If you don't want them... I'd like them as a souvenir. I mean, if you're okay with that," Voughn added, scratching his cheek.

     Rutu continued staring down at the kindling. It felt like someone had clutched her heart. It felt like something was pressing down on her throat. "...Why?" she managed, though she felt sure that she knew.

     "...Because," he said before rubbing his face with a sigh. "Because I really like you. I mean... really like you."

     "...Oh."

     "And... I guess... I was hoping that maybe after all this, you and me, we could meet up... and... ?"

     The hopeful lilt in his voice squeezed her heart even more. Rutu clenched the pages in her hand so hard she felt as though they should have torn. "Um.

     "...I... I'm not really... looking for a relationship."

     "...Oh."

     She took in a ragged breath. His forlorn voice wasn't making this any easier. "I mean, you're nice, you're funny and all, but..."

     "No, don't worry, I get it," he said, pushing himself back on his feet. "Sorry to bother you."

     Rutu didn't even look up as he walked away. Somehow, the worst part was that he really did sound like he understood. Maybe she should have said 'yes.' But the truth was, she had never really loved anybody, not like that, and the thought of being in an actual serious relationship made her head clog up in panic and confusion.

     She sighed and tossed the rest of the journal pages into the flame.

     ***

     "So before we do anything else today, I just want to make sure – the previous arrangements we decided upon before yesterday are still okay with everybody now, right?"

     "Yeah, of course," said Ricky.

     "Where's Voughn?" Selvin scowled when Hurok pointed to Rutu as an answer. "You are really horrible with names."

     "He went off this morning," said Ricky, turning a skewered sausage around over the fire. "Said he'd be back later."

     "Shoot. I was hoping to get his help, too..."

     Hurok raised an eyebrow. "With what?" he asked, looking somewhat uncomfortable at the sly grin Selvin shot back.

     "Weeeeeell," she said, "You did say you were on vacation..."

     Hurok's mouth deepened into a scowl. "No."

     "I just think a vacation ought to be a bit more cheerful than this–"

     "No."

     " – I mean, usually one would go to a nice inn on a nice island, maybe, with a beach–"

     "No. Absolutely not. I am not wasting my time on such an asinine–"

     "Hang on, Selvin, maybe he's right."

     "Thank you."

     "If he relaxed one bit, he might melt completely."

     Hurok could only sit and fume silently at Ricky before he turned to Rutu. "Look, don't you think this is just a silly thing to force me to do? I mean, really. I know you suggested trying to do things a different way, but this?"

     Rutu finished writing a sentence before looking up. "I do think that the one who's actually on vacation has a right to spend it any way he wants."

     "Ha!" Hurok shouted in a very un-Hurok-like way, turning to the other two triumphantly.

     "But I do have to agree," she added, a faint smile forming across her face.

     The three turned to her. "What?"

     "It can't be healthy, Hurok, having that stick perpetually stuck up your – "

     "HEY!" Everybody turned to the approaching Voughn. He waved cheerfully while hefting a large sack of something over his shoulder.

     Selvin immediately stood up and called out towards him, a hand cupped around her mouth. "Voughn! Help us get Hurok to take a real vacation!"

     The Kau ambled up and set his load down. Rutu immediately started scrawling in her journal again. "Y'mean here? I can't say this is a nice vacation spot."

     "What's in the bag?" asked Ricky.

     "Oh this?" Voughn kicked the bag a little and it rolled slightly. "Picked some berries."

     Hurok stared skeptically. "That's not 'some' berries, that's too many berries. They'll all spoil before we finish them."

     "Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever, let's get back on topic here!" said Selvin, her face still twisting mischievously. "Hurok, seriously, just try an actual vacation for one day why don't ya?"

     "Because I'm honestly not interested in dealing with trivial matters. And haven't you been listening? There's nothing 'vacation-y' to do here. It's a clearing. In the middle of nowhere. There's a lot of grass and trees. That's it."

     "Weeeeeeeell," said Selvin, rocking on her heels. "You're a knight, right? And knights are strong, riiiiiiight?"

     Hurok started to raise his hand, as if getting ready to massage a future migraine. "What's your point?"

     "You could give me a piggy-back ride."

     The knight opened his mouth and closed it again once the ridiculous request reached his brain. Slowly, his hand crept towards his forehead and it stayed there for a long while. "Excuse me. Perhaps I am just inexperienced with vacations overall. But how is that even remotely relaxing?"

     "Well, piggy-back rides are fun!"

     "Maybe for the rider," he grumbled.

     "No, c'mon. Rutu, you'd like a piggy-back ride too, right?"

     Rutu glanced up, eyes darting from Selvin to Hurok. On the one hand, she was sure that irritating a knight was a bad move. On the other...

     "Actually, yeah."

     Selvin turned back to Hurok with an intensely wide grin. The knight stared back, perturbed, then turned to Voughn. "You can't seriously – "

     "Y'know, I think I could dig some stuff up in my pack and we could toss around a Frisbee or something."

     "If we could set up these tents a certain way and dig up a ball, we could also play some volleyball," Ricky suggested.

     "Look," Hurok interrupted, desperation coloring his voice. "This is really not the time to focus on how I'm spending my vacation, and I demand that we focus on the issue at hand!"

     "Oh no," Selvin crowed. "Don't you dare try to worm your way out of piggy-back rides!"

     Voughn gave a cocked grin. "I got an idea. How 'bout this, if you can answer one question right, then we'll drop the subject."

     "Deal," said Hurok hastily. "What is it?"

     Voughn slowly folded his arms and looked down at the Acara with half-lidded eyes. "What're our names?"

     Hurok stared, then spun towards Rutu. "Well, she's... ah..."

     Rutu stared up Hurok's pointed finger for a few seconds. "You just heard my name. It was only a minute ago, Hurok."

     "Quiet, I'm thinking," he snapped, eyes darting around as though looking for some sort of nametag. Eventually, he hung his head in defeat.

     Selvin squealed in a rather undignified manner and immediately leapt onto Hurok's back. He lurched under the sudden weight and, with weary resignation, underwent his punishment. Throughout the whole day, the knight kept glaring at Voughn, who would look away innocently and pretend not to notice the sheer hatred.

     At the end, though, the Kau declared that, for being such a (relatively) good sport about the whole thing, Hurok would be granted one request from each of them. It could be anything at all, within reason.

     Hurok gained an almost wicked grin. Selvin just stared, aghast. "I don't like the sound of that," she said.

     ***

     "I think I'm going to Altador," said Voughn, surprising everybody else who had grown to expect Hurok to bring up the topic as usual. "Nobody got a problem with that, right?"

     "Nope," said Hurok, looking oddly chipper. Selvin stared at the knight nervously. "Not at all."

     "I guess that means we'll be travelling together for a bit," Rutu commented. Voughn laughed heartedly.

     "At least you'll have someone to defend you part of th' way, eh?"

     Rutu allowed herself to scowl. "I'd like to think I'm capable of protecting myself, Voughn."

     The Kau raised his hands apologetically, but continued to smile. "No offense, but do botanists normally learn self-defense?"

     "Well... no..."

     "So it'd be safer for me to tag along for a while! I mean, whatever one you take, folks're bound to think you got something valuable."

     "I... guess," she said.

     "Well, if that's settled," Hurok announced quite loudly, "I think that there is a very, very important question that should be answered by our professional wizard here."

     Selvin stiffened. "Yeah? What?"

     "I mean, I'm sure we've all heard that those who study magic are capable of many, wondrous tasks, almost inconceivable in nature – "

     "Stop drawing it out and get it over with," the wizard snapped.

     Hurok drew himself up high and straightened his robes. "So is there a spell for summoning Scamanders?"

     Selvin's face blanched. Rutu couldn't help but notice that, somehow, the Ixi had managed to stiffen even more. "What."

     "Oh, you know, Scamanders. Little slippery things. Amazing how they survive in the desert with their moist... slimy... mucous..."

     She shuddered at each word, finally blurting out, "STOP. Hurok. Please."

     "I was just curious if our cunning wizard here would accept the challenge to summon the largest, slimiest Scamander... pick it up... and lick – "

     "Hurok." This time, it was Ricky who spoke up. The blacksmith had been clenching his teeth hard during the whole thing and now raised himself up, glaring at the knight. "That's too far."

     The sadistically gleeful expression vanished immediately. "So I'm supposed to endure the relentless teasing of all of you, but I'm not allowed to tease back? How exactly is that fair?"

     "You don't tease about someone's fear," Ricky shot back. "Never tease someone about their fear."

     Hurok was suddenly standing up, struggling to figure out a retort. After a few false starts, he finally turned back to Selvin, saying, "She's not – "

     Selvin had curled up, as small as she could be, covering her face with her knees, shuddering violently, shoulders convulsing as she let out the odd whimper. Hurok looked away, shoulders slumped.

     After a few seconds, he finally said, "Forget it. I'll think of something else," and he walked slowly away to the edge of the clearing. Rutu and Voughn tracked Hurok with their eyes until he vanished behind the trees, but Ricky immediately settled down again and started to soothe Selvin. As soon as he laid a calming hand on her, she burst into loud wails and cried messily in his arms. Rutu, feeling extraneous, useless, and uncomfortable all at once, decided that she should probably leave as well and took her journal with her away from the clearing.

     She hadn't intended on finding Hurok, but she did anyways. It was hard to miss him. He was roughly punching a tree, every attack shaking the branches and felling leaves. Rutu couldn't help but feel sorry for it.

     Feeling safely ignored, she stayed and watched him. But it became apparent that he knew she was there when, without stopping, he said, "I thought that by now, everybody absolutely hated me. At least more than usual."

     Rutu hesitated before moving in closer, circling around the tree so that she could actually see his face. "We never hated you," she said, twiddling her fingers and staring up at the canopy.

     THUD. "Interesting." THUD. "I certainly don't feel like 'part of the group.'"

     The quick glimpses she got of his face whenever she managed to force herself to glance straight at him were frightening. She had never seen the knight actually act violently before. Every time he prepared a punch, his face twisted into a horrifying grimace. It didn't help that the leaves cast jagged shadows over him. That coupled with the fact that she felt absolutely lost in the sort of conversation that she knew this was going to be made her instinctively want to flee. But she stood her ground.

     "You're just... really serious."

     THUD. "Is that really so bad?" THUD.

     "Um... well, no... it's just..." THUD. She winced. "It doesn't really incite welcoming behavior."

     THUD. "Someone has to keep the group on track, though." THUD. "If I'm not serious about this job, nobody will be."

     THUD. "Um, maybe, I guess... but just because you, uh," THUD. "Feel an obligation to be the serious guy," THUD. "Doesn't mean you can't act, you know, friendly sometimes." THUD. "You're just... so..." THUD. "...disapproving."

     Hurok finally stopped. The forest soon ceased to thrum in time with his punches. He stared upwards and sighed. "That back there... that was me trying to be like the rest of you. But I guess I just don't understand."

     "Don't you have friends back in Brightvale?"

     "Not... not exactly, no. I'm more private. But it's lonely, sometimes."

     Rutu nodded. "I know what you mean."

     Slowly, Hurok turned towards where the encampment was, then he turned to stare straight at Rutu. She shuffled and avoided his gaze. "But you're good at conversations. You joke around. I... I actually imagined that you had plenty of friends, wherever you live."

     Her laugh was loud and awkward, and she desperately tried to dial it down. "I – I mean, yeah, I guess, but they're just – just people to talk to, hang out with, I just, I mean, I listen mostly... I guess."

     The sounds of the forest were starting up again. Wild petpets scurried about through the ground and trees as the two stood there in silence.

     "Um," said Rutu, shuffling again, "do you want to head back? It's probably been long enough."

     "Alright."

     The knight strode in front of her, walking a pace that she struggled to keep up with. She stared at his hands. "Didn't all that punching hurt?"

     "What?" he said, slowing down a little. "Oh, no. When I was training, I used to do that every day. It's rough at first, but eventually you grow callouses. When I just started out, I was able to work through the pain by imagining that I was punching someone I really hated."

     "Oh." She swallowed. "Were you doing that... back there... ?"

     "Yes."

     "Who was it?"

     At this, Hurok sped up again. Rutu was about to apologize when he suddenly said, "Myself."

     As soon as they broke back into the clearing, Hurok sprinted back to the camp, shouting, "Rutu!" Startled, Rutu stammered out a "Yes?" but the knight was already back at the camp. She tried to hurry up.

     "Why didn't you respond?" Hurok demanded, standing over Ricky.

     The Kiko blinked. "I'm not Rutu. She's behind you."

     Hurok turned in time to see the botanist finish her jog, breathless and aching.

     Voughn couldn't help it and burst out into laughter. "Man, why do you keep trying? You're just no good at names! D'ya want us all to wear some nametags or something?"

     "I'm sure I would still mess it up somehow," he replied drily.

     Voughn paused. "Did I just imagine that?"

     "Hurok, you just made a joke. At your own expense."

     The Acara looked over his shoulders, as though he thought the two men were addressing someone else. "What?" he said nervously. "It wasn't really..."

     Ricky nudged him roughly. "Maybe you have a sense of humor after all, eh?"

     "It wasn't really a joke," he protested, wildly gesturing with his hands in a way that seemed nonsensical even to him. "It was just a comment about my general inability to – "

     "For the love of – you literally wouldn't know a joke if it came out of your own mouth. I didn't think that was possible!"

     Hurok turned towards Selvin, fidgeting. "I'm really sorr – "

     "Skip it," she said, smirking at Hurok's expression of bafflement.

     "You'd really forgive me that fast?"

     "Well," she said, getting up on her feet, "I honestly would rather punch you in the face. But I don't want to break my hand so let's just agree that you're really dumb and leave it at that. By the way, you smell really sweaty."

     Hurok ceased fidgeting with his hands and moved to fidgeting with his clothes. "Ah, well, sorry... about that, I mean. I was thinking of washing myself in a nearby river, maybe, but I didn't know where – "

     Rutu quickly stepped away as Hurok was rather spontaneously shoved to the ground by a large column of water. Selvin lowered her staff and moved to stand over a sputtering Hurok. "You're welcome."

     "...Right." The knight sat up and attempted to dry himself off but quickly realized it to be rather difficult and stopped worrying about it.

     "So what did you want me for?" asked Ricky. "I mean, you did want me, right?"

     "Oh! Right." Hurok coughed. "I was thinking about what I would request from you, and I thought I'd tell you. If that's alright."

     "You don't know any of my phobias at all," said Ricky, crossing his arms smugly. "So go ahead and do your worst."

     "Take the sand negg."

     Ricky waited.

     "...What? That's it? You're... not even going to tell me where to go? 'Cause if I had to go sailing or something I'd get really seasi – " The blacksmith quickly covered his mouth, but he knew it was too late.

     Hurok chuckled. "No. I won't force you to go sailing. But I do want you to take the sand negg to the Lost Desert."

     "The sand negg... to the place with the sand. You know, it seems to me that I have a million hiding places there."

     "Exactly. But, you know... if you make a decoy impossible to find, then that misses the point of being a decoy, don't you think? So obviously you must hide it conspicuously, so that it stands out against the sand. And I heard that it's a rather windy place, so I hope you'll be able to keep it from blowing away. Also," he added, arms folded behind his back, "keeping it in the basket would be cheating. It would leak through, anyways."

     The Kiko slowly shook himself out of his building shock and struggled to find a suitable response. He finally settled on, "I hate you."

     Hurok stopped smiling. "Was that too far again?"

     "No, no no no," Ricky said, waving his hands. "I'll do it just so I can show you up! Is hiding it in some sort of ancient temple cheating?"

     Hurok pondered over this. "Nnnno. I suppose not. But I don't think those are very common and wouldn't that be considered defilement?"

     "Who cares!" And with that done, Hurok spun on his heels until he faced Selvin again.

     "So my new request from you is for you to explain your odd disgust with going to Brightvale."

     "Oh no." She held her head in her hand. "I thought we got past that."

     "Aw yeah!" shouted Voughn, fist-pumping the air. It seemed a very inappropriate reaction. "I've been curious 'bout that ever since you said it! C'mon, say it, you have to now!"

     "Is there any way I can get out of this one too?" Selvin asked, her words sounding like one long sigh.

     "Considering I happen to serve the Brightvale guard and am thus concerned with why anybody would suspiciously refuse to go there," said Hurok, "no."

     "Seriously, it's not that big a deal. I didn't do time, or steal something or destroy something or anything. It's completely and totally uninteresting."

     "Sooooooooo," said Voughn, sidling up next to her and clapping a heavy arm around her shoulders. "It totally shouldn't matter if you tell us, riiiiight?" The wizard tried to edge away but was unable to escape his grasp.

     With a sigh, she said, "Fine. If you really must know, before I studied at the Faerie Academy, I studied at Brightvale. My experience there was... less than stellar and I haven't quite gotten over some of my grudges against some people there. So that's why I don't want to go to Brightvale."

     "That's it?" said Ricky. "I mean, sorry about whatever happened there, but..."

     "Yer not lying?" asked Voughn, finally taking his arm off of her. With a roll of her eyes, Selvin crossed her heart and held up her right hand.

     "Wizard oath. Not lying."

     Hurok rubbed his chin. "So if I understand correctly, if you did happen to meet with these certain people again, you would feel compelled to work out your grudges against them?"

     Selvin shrugged. "If you mean 'slap them in the face and challenge them to a wizard duel and cause a lot of collateral damage,' then maybe. Who knows."

     "Do you even know where they are right now, what they're doing?"

     She scoffed. "Really, the less I think about them the better."

     "Because if you want, I could probably look up some records when I get back to Brightvale. Look up some names. Maybe finding out what they're doing right now would give you some gratification."

     "Maybe I don't know much, but I do know that holding grudges is unhealthy. And feeding them would be even worse." Selvin shook her head and looked off to the right. "The best thing for me is to just forget the whole thing. Feeling satisfaction just 'cause some stupid bullies who ruined a few of my days are now... sweeping floors or whatever shouldn't be something to look forward to."

     "...Alright," Hurok said, smiling faintly.

     "So!" Voughn clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "What about me? Whacha got in store for me and Rutu?"

     The Poogle looked up. "What?"

     Selvin glanced at her disappointedly. "Did you seriously not pay attention the whole time?"

     "S-sorry... I was just doodling."

     "Well, you missed the most shocking confession made in this clearing yet!"

     Selvin shoved Ricky and he laughed, bobbing away. "Stop that, you aren't fooling anyone. He's joking, it wasn't interesting at all," she said to Rutu.

     "If you say so," said Rutu, turning back down to her journal.

     "See?" Selvin exclaimed, gesturing towards Rutu with a flourish. "At least someone here respects privacy. Is that really so hard for you guys?"

     "But seriously, Hurok, what about us?"

     The Acara rubbed his head. "Honestly, I hadn't thought of anything."

     Voughn slumped in his seat. "Laaaaaaame."

     "No worries, I'll think of something tomorrow," he said unconvincingly.

     "You better!"

To be continued...

 
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» Hiding the Clockwork Negg: Part One
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