Siyarine's bare paws padded softly on the glossy wooden floors, echoed by the soft dual trotting of the baby twins. They darted in merry zig zags from wall to wall, occasionally nipping at their older sister's hem. Though such offenses would normally elicit a sharp scolding, Siya was silent.
The western wing of the house had, almost overnight, transformed from a warm and inviting living space to a cold, nigh sacred ground, and a solemn silence reigned. The door to the first room on the left was wide open, and the upper hinge was visibly loose, as if someone had flung it open and slammed it too often.
The room had only been occupied for three days.
Inside, a blue Kougra sat on her bed mat, knees tucked up to her chin. Her typically sharp tawny eyes were soft and unfocused as she looked up to watch the Xweetok and Aishas pass, and Siyarine couldn't bear to meet the gaze. Mara shook her head, navy locks swaying gently with the motion. "She won't let you in. She doesn't even let Mother in anymore."
Siyarine continued to look forward, ignoring the confused coos of the babies. She had to try. So what if she was shutting out their mother? Or her own twin?
She just had to try.
The trio finally stopped at the last door on the right. No lights cast shadows against the paper wall, no longer considered necessary by the occupant. The nearby window radiated with cold, and the fur of Siyarine's bare arms stood just a little straighter. She took a deep breath, and the cool air rushed into her lungs, a stab of ice in her chest that spread out slowly and tortuously. Her paw hovered before the door, as if she waited for a sign...
Ashley babbled impatiently. That would have to do.
Silence. The words hung in the empty air like snowflakes on an updraft, echoing lightly down the halls.
"It's snowing outside. The babies want to play," a momentary pause, "with all of us."
She pressed one large, striped ear against the door, silently begging to hear a response. Or footprints. Breathing.
The Xweetok almost jumped, looking back over her shoulder. Annabelle had managed to show up almost silently. How she accomplished such a feat with hooves and a dragging tail, Siyarine would never know. Little Aspen nuzzled the eldest sister's leg, whining softly in disappointment.
"She wants to be alone," the Peophin started gently. "Give her time."
Siyarine nodded, studying her own feet intently. Her voice was quiet, cracking slightly. "We're trying..."
The group started back towards the east wing, with Annabelle softly reassuring the babies that yes, she and Anna would go outside with them, and Siya's ears flicked.
"Where do you keep your key?"
Her sister studied her face, not comprehending, when it dawned on her.
The footsteps retreated down the hall, undecipherable whispers fading off. Mrikuni finally let out the breath she had been holding, and leaned back against the cold screen. She gazed off into nothing, facing the covered window on the back wall. The curtain hung loose on its post, casting a minute sliver of snow-reflected light. The weak ray cut through the strewn shreds of parchment and cracked bindings, coming to a stop against the cold eyes of the Kougra.
The blue, clouded eyes.
If Mrikuni could have seen the destruction, she would most likely have fainted. A week ago she would have treated such literary carnage as anyone would the remains of a fierce battle. Books were her everything, and written words her lifeblood.
But she could not see it, and the destruction was by her owns hands.
In all honesty, most Neopians wouldn't consider it much of a loss. The books in Mrikuni's room were all common tomes, single point junk collected from thrift shops and minor quests. Anything that wouldn't put a suitable amount towards the massive budget required for seven sisters ended up on the shelf in her room. The real treasures, gifts from mother or high ranking dignitaries on birthdays or graduations, were on display in the sitting room, locked in a high glassed-over cabinet. Only Mrikuni, the eldest twins, and mother held keys. Those books alone would survive her despondent rage.
The past few days had been filled with hatred. Hatred towards the Guild. Hatred towards the evil in the woods, towards the cold, towards the fading expressions of horror on her sisters' faces...
And towards all the books she could never read again.
The unquenchable rage she felt scared her. It wasn't normal. Marama was the one who got all of the aggression; she was simply the quiet, dreaming bookish one. She read to her sisters, and wrote of places not yet explored and adventures not yet had. Her entire life had been daydreams and ambitions, but where had her hopes taken her, and where did they leave her?
Leaning against the wall of a destroyed room, trembling like an infant, ashamed to face her family and afraid of herself and the future.
A gentle rustling from the hall perked her ears back up. One of her sisters was returning. Mrikuni's paws clenched against her knees, bunching up the fabric of her dress in silent indignation. The footfalls were soft and bipedal, likely Siyarine. Her persistence in trying to draw her sister out of her self-imposed exile was almost endearing, if not unintentionally cruel. All Mrik wanted was to be alone with the remains of her books and her useless eyes; how could she not see that?
She listened intently as her sister sat down, resting against the closest support beam. Mrikuni waited for the inevitable begging, or pleading, or even screaming. Marama had fallen victim to her own anger the day before, and had to be dragged away from the door by mother as she shrieked herself hoarse. Siyarine wasn't the type, but... well, Mrikuni wasn't exactly the kind to destroy literature.
None of them spoke. The house remained disturbingly quiet, with only the faintest echo of the remaining five frolicking outside. A beam creaked. Annabelle's yooyu scurried around downstairs.
A piece of paper rustled.
"Balthazar could say that his happiest day, without question, was the day the faeries turned to stone..."
Mrikuni froze, turning to the side and flicking her ears forward to catch the words. Was that...?
"...on that most celebrated day of the Faerie Festival, year Nine, cruel treachery and the destiny of unlikely heroes collided..."
It was. The Happiest Day. A gift from the Queen herself for her last birthday. The most valuable thing she owned, kept in the cabinet...
Oh. One of the eldest had given her the key.
"His cruelty compelled him to smash every bottle in his possession, laughing with great delight as their fear froze into stone..."
Siyarine read aloud for hours, stopping only when she heard her sisters stomping in downstairs. Mrikuni heard the book shut, followed by her younger sister returning to her feet, dusting off, and scurrying away down the hall. Mrik leaned against the wall in a daze, surprising herself when she bumped into the support beam. Without even realizing, she had moved closer to the source of the story, ending up separated from Siyarine by a few inches of oak and nothing more.
Siyarine returned the next morning at seven. She settled in against the wall once more, flipping to the bookmarked page, and continued where she left off. Mrikuni listened from her mat, astounded. For all Siyarine knew, she was still fast asleep, or ignoring her, yet there she was, continuing to read a book she had shown no prior interest in aloud. The Kougra crawled across the floor, feeling her way towards the support beam to hear better. On the other side, Siyarine heard the shuffling, and smiled, but never faltered.
She finished the book shortly before noon, gently closing it and sighing. Sure, it was far from the most boring tome in the house, but the poor girl was growing tired of historical documentation of the Faeries' Ruin...
She almost jumped, knocking her head against the wall. Hissing softly, she rubbed her head, surprised. She hadn't heard that voice in over a week...
"...another one. Read another."
"...Alright. Which one?"
Silence. Siya feared she had overstepped in her attempt to prompt more dialogue. Finally, "The Velveteen Draik, please."
Siyarine smiled. A present from mother for her seventh birthday. Mrikuni used to read it to the younger trio every night before bed. "Alright. After lunch. I'll bring something up for you."
Mrikuni listened as her sister headed off, and rubbed her eyes. The icy stare was melting, sending twin rivulets down her face.