A Tale of Two Bori: Part Eleven
Feinly awoke with a gasp, cold sweat beaded on her nosetip. She could not remember the exact dream she had been having, only that it was filled with visions of horrible ice and frigid cold. The warm Shenkuu air was a relief, reminding her that she never had to return to Terror Mountain again. This land was her paradise, filled with flowers and a peaceful culture that suited her perfectly. She would never leave.
She sat up slowly, peering curiously at the room she was in. This was just like when she had woken in Anshu's room, feeling weak and confused. Had she passed out again...? How embarrassing; she had such a weak constitution. It didn't feel like the fever had returned, though – perhaps she was still recovering, and the walk to town had been too strenuous for her. Suddenly she remembered Snowip, the little Slorg she had brought to town with her. She patted her fur down, frantically searching for the snowy petpet. Was it lost? Had someone in town taken it? It wasn't until her swiveling ears caught the sound of gnawing that she relaxed. Sure enough, the snow Slorg was behind her, devouring what appeared to be a stick of incense. She rose and quickly moved over to it, scooping up the creature and returning it to its perch on her shoulder.
Now that she had found her petpet, Feinly needed to figure out where she was and how she had gotten there. The pallets arranged on the hardwood floor were clearly to accommodate others, though the room was empty aside from her. Sunlight streamed in through an open window, pale enough to signal mid-morning. Fein walked to the window, peeking out to see a majestic cherry tree casting its leafy shadow across a stone courtyard. This place seemed very lavish, far more luxurious than the buildings she had seen in town. This could only mean one thing – it was the capitol, the Emperor's palace. Her tasseled tail began to flick with nervous energy, her ears falling back at an apprehensive angle. Why had she been taken here? And if she couldn't repay Anshu for nursing her back to health, how could she possibly repay royalty?
Fein walked to the open doorway, peeking into the hallway outside the sickbay. She could hear muffled voices having distant conversations, as well as the hustle and bustle of Neopets moving about. The corridor was long with a tall ceiling, walls decorated with hanging scrolls painted with ink symbols or creatures. At the far end, she could see a pair of armoured guards wielding menacing spear weapons, a sight that made her cringe. She thought of Shenkuu as a peaceful place, and seeing they too had warriors unsettled her. Unsettling...! The thought of war jogged her memory – she had seen an icy skeleton, or something that resembled one, and that was what caused her to faint at the docks! She needed to warn the Emperor of a possible threat to his country – it could mean the Bringer of Night had been resurrected, or that his undead minions were now spawning without him. She felt a sharp pain in her stomach, anxiety making her physically ill. She was a pacifist, and abhorred conflict in all of its forms. If Shenkuu went to war, she could not stay here.
The white Bori stumbled into the hallway, shying away from the passage with the guards. Their metal armaments frightened her, and she knew she would not be able to find her voice if she tried to address them. She touched Snowip for encouragement before scurrying deeper into the palace, tail whipping back and forth behind her. She padded past sliding doors crafted from paper, assuming that the royal family would be located at the heart of their temple behind some sort of lavish gateway. She was humbled by this place, feeling small and shabby in comparison to its wealth and cultural heritage. She flinched away whenever another Neopet passed her in the hallway, but they all showed no interest in her, busying themselves with whatever errands they were embarking upon. She leaned against the wall to allow a Mynci cook to wheel a cart of fresh vegetables past her, then sidestepped for a flying Shoyru performer and his small stringed instrument. It was a busy morning, and the further in she went, the more Shenkuuvians she encountered. The small Bori maneuvered her way forward, keeping her head bowed so that she did not need to make eye contact with anyone. It wasn't until she bumped into one that she looked up, and then she wished she hadn't.
Blue ice was staring back at her, a living creature with a gleaming crystalline hide. Taller and broader-shouldered than Feinly, the frozen male loomed over her, seemingly surprised to have bumped into her. His head was wrapped in a bandage, one scented with the faint aroma of incense. Rooted to the spot, Fein trembled, eyes welling with terrified tears. Somehow an icy skeleton had transformed into a Bori-like creature, and had followed her here to Shenkuu. Even worse than that, the palace healers had bandaged him, meaning they intended to protect him rather than war against his kind. Her warnings would be useless. She tried to coax her quivering lips to say something, but her voice had vanished, and all she could muster was a strangled squeak.
The ice Bori raised his claws, reaching for her, and terror galvanized Fein into action. She clutched Snowip to her chest and ran, stumbling clumsily into the Shenkuu citizens in her haste. Her heart was hammering wildly, adrenaline leaving her dizzy, nearly making her pass out again. All she could hear were the ragged sounds of her own breathing and the thundering of her heartbeat. She had never been more frightened in her life – even during the Bringer's war, she had seen the action from a distance. She was no fighter, and she had huddled at the furthest end of the Ice Caves with the Bori children, covering her eyes so that she did not have to see the wicked icy skeletons and their demigod master. This was the first time she had come face to face with one, and had to actually flee him lest he capture her.
She turned the corner, darting down another hallway, then another. The twists and turns disoriented her, as she began to falter from fatigue. She wanted to keep running forever so that the ice demon would never come that close again, but she was in poor shape and struggled to catch her breath. Finally she spotted a half-open sliding door with sunlight spilling into the hallway, and staggered through it, emerging outdoors. Trembling all over with fear, she dove behind a flowering shrub and curled into a hard-shelled ball.
It took a long time before her racing heartbeat slowed to a regular pace again. It was quiet here, broken only by the sounds of a family of tame Pandaphants munching on leaves nearby. The white Bori slowly uncurled, large ears swiveling for any sounds of the ice creature. All was peaceful here, and it seemed she had lost her pursuer. In the process, she had gotten lost as well; she found herself huddled in a corner of what appeared to be a royal garden. There were stone benches carved with fanciful beasts like the Quilin and Biyako, and statues of such creatures hidden throughout the landscape. A stone waterfall fountain was the centerpiece, clear water trickling into a pool with glimmering Belonthiss fish swimming in lazy circles within. Flowers and shrubs were everywhere, soaking the bright sunlight, or gathered in the shade beneath several carefully arranged cherry trees. It took the awed Bori a moment to realize that this garden was hidden within the walls of the palace; a courtyard, just like the stone one she had seen from her sickbay window. She kept a tight hold on Snowip, knowing the Slorg would want to graze on all of these beautiful and probably rare plants.
As Feinly hesitantly rose from her shrub hiding place, she was met by a curious lavender Kazeriu. The serpentine petpet flowed gracefully through the air, shiny blue eyes searching Feinly's startled face. Snowip burbled a happy cooing noise upon seeing the fellow petpet, straining in Fein's arms to reach it. There were so many rare creatures in this garden, petpets that she could never find in the bamboo groves on the mountain. They must belong to the royal family, the Emperor and his daughters. She raised her claws for the little dragon to perch on, but it playfully streamed away, weaving through the plants to coil up on a nearby stone bench. When Feinly shyly began to follow it, she noticed something she had not before; there was someone else in the garden.
It was a Cybunny about her age; she was serenely stroking her Kazeriu's head, sitting on the bench and silently enjoying the waterfall fountain and the perfumed air of the garden. The girl was wearing a beautiful dress in the Shenkuu style, golden cuffs and trim accenting the red and blue silk fabric. Feinly flashed back on the imperial scroll she had studied that introduced her to the Gelert emperor and his daughters. The heir to his throne was his eldest daughter, Lunara, and she had been mentioned as a Cybunny. It could not simply be coincidence; this garden was so secluded and private, it had probably been created solely for the purpose of entertaining the princesses who lived here. She was in the presence of royalty.
The rustling of the shrub gave her away, and the Cybunny turned to see her, surveying her with wide pink eyes. Feinly instinctively bowed, afraid to hold the princess's gaze lest she offend the noble. She had never met someone with so much power and status before. She heard the Cybunny stand and walk forward, but did not react until she felt a warm touch on her chin, gently directing her face back to eye level. "Do not fear, Bori, you are welcome to relax here. I have no qualms with sharing my garden with travelers."
Feinly blinked rapidly, nervous all over again. Today had been very stressful. She didn't even register that the princess was speaking her own language, and not the Shenkuuvian one. "I... I apologize, Princess Lunara... I saw a... a creature made of ice, and I had to hide somewhere... Icy skeletons destroyed my birthplace, and... I feared..." She struggled to form the words, anxiety leaving her mouth dry. If the princess could heed her warning and expel the icy invader, perhaps she would stand a chance. But instead of reacting with alarm, Lunara smiled, albeit it sadly. She touched an amulet she wore made of a lapis lazuli stone, as though it drew her comfort.
"Yes, I learned recently about your mountain, and the war fought against the Bringer of Night. It is a sad story, and yet I have only ever seen one of your kind before; where do you live, and how long have you been with us?" Lunara spoke calmly and lightly, not at all disturbed by the news. Feinly swallowed, confused by her indifference. Didn't she understand the danger?
"I... I live on the mountain outside the port town. I... don't know the name. But it is an abandoned shrine, I am turning it into a garden like this one... it's been several seasons of work. I have the terraces ready, but I need seeds..." She trailed off meekly, unsure of why the princess cared. But the Cybunny seemed very interested, her face brightening. She pulled a blank scroll from her sleeves and a small quill, and scribbled out some symbols on it before giving it to her Kazeriu. The lavender-scaled dragon grasped the note and soared up into the air, vanishing into the palace.
"There. Consider that a royal apology for your frightening morning – our palace should always be a haven for the citizens of Shenkuu, protected by our finest guards and offering all of our resources to better their lives. The ice creature... I sense he will not bring you any harm." Lunara looked thoughtful, as though there was more she wanted to say but did not. Feinly frowned, her deep-rooted fear preventing her from trusting the Cybunny's cryptic promise. She looked down at Snowip, cradling the snow Slorg to try and assuage her nerves. She could not shake the feeling that as soon as she entered the palace again, she would be attacked by an icy skeleton. She did not even know how she had gotten here, and had no inkling of how to get home again.
Feinly shuffled her feet, embarrassed to ask a favor when she did not know what the 'royal apology' scroll entailed. "Princess Lunara, I... I fear for my life... is there anything you could do to help me get home? I am no warrior, I cannot defend myself..." She trembled, her heart beginning to flutter rapidly again as the mere mention of the ice creature. She did not even know if her home would be safe; she had first seen it in town, after all, and it had followed her to the imperial palace. It might never stop hunting her – some remnant of the Bringer's army sent after the Bori that got away.
A sly grin spread onto Lunara's whiskery face; it was as though the question had given her a brilliant idea. "I will assign you a defender, one who will escort you home and protect you. I know of someone who speaks your language and would be willing to stay with you on the mountain, guarding your precious garden from all intruders. And I can guarantee that he will never allow an icy skeleton to get near you, let alone harm you." Feinly nodded numbly, feeling as though she had no choice. The royal guards were so frightening, with their armour and weapons, and yet her other option was facing an even greater fear, a beast carved from living ice. Her sanctuary would no longer be private to her, and it made her heart sink with dread.
"Wait here, and I will fetch him for you," Lunara said, pressing her hands encouragingly around Feinly's claws before padding out of the garden. Feinly settled onto the stone bench, curling her tasseled tail gingerly around her feet. The garden's beauty had soured for her, tinged with the apprehension and fear she was now struggling with. How could the princess not be concerned with this ice creature? If she knew the story of Terror Mountain and the history of the Bori, she must know what a risk it was to allow such a creature in the empire. And she sincerely hoped that she was not going to be assigned the giant Grarrl guard she had seen in the hallway near the sickbay, because she would be too terrified to ever speak to a Neopet that large and brutish.
Feinly lost track of time as she waited, watching the trickling fountain sparkle in the sunlight. It was at least noon by the time she heard the sliding door open, and someone entered the garden. She squeezed Snowip anxiously before turning to see who it was. It appeared to be a Bori like her, but it was difficult to make out his features under the heavy helmet he wore, and the white performer's face paint he had liberally applied underneath it. He wore a thick, long-sleeved tunic of red and gold, with Shenkuu-style plate armour sewn into the fabric. Gloves covered his claws, and bandages were wrapped over his tail and ears. All in all, the mysterious guard was well concealed. He had been outfitted with a spear, but was also carrying a heavy pack on his shoulders, which he set down as she timidly approached him.
"Milady, this is a gift from the Princess Lunara. It contains seeds of all the flowers in this garden, as well as several tree saplings. She informed me that the only repayment she seeks is for you to return to the palace from time to time and visit her, as she enjoyed your company. She had royal duties to attend to, so she could not come to see your departure." The guard spoke politely and formally, deferring to her with a nod of his head. Feinly edged closer, peering at him. Lunara had another Bori like her in her royal guard? She could not even see the color of his fur, since he wore that face paint. He stooped to hoist the heavy case back onto his shoulders, emitting a soft grunt from the effort. Feinly nodded in silent thanks, wary of his presence and the weapon he carried, but still preferring his company to being chased by that awful ice beast, whatever it had been. She shuffled meekly after him as he led her into the hallway, clutching Snowip tightly as she searched for any signs of the ice creature reappearing.
"I understand I am to accompany you to your dwelling in the mountain? I will lead you back to town, then you can show me the way from there. My name is Trealiy..."
To be continued...