Shivering, the Acara ran through the woods. Brambles and trees tore at her skirt, trying to entangle her in their grasp. She kept running.
There! A cave. She hurried towards it. As she ran, she noticed a faint shimmer in the mouth of the cave. Not stopping, she ran in. She was instantly blasted by a wave of heat. Was that what the shimmer did? Preserve the warmth inside the cave? She shrugged. It didn't matter.
She heard howls outside and huddled into the shadows. Werelupes, perhaps? Hopefully they wouldn't bother to look for her. If they did, she'd just keep running.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed movement in the cave. She turned towards the darkness. Something growled. She paled and froze up as something huge and menacing rose up. She screamed as it lunged at her-
Suddenly, she was knocked to the side. A Shadow Lupess growled at the creature as it drew back. The creature retreated into the shadows. The mysterious Lupess made sure the monster had fully retreated before she turned to the Acara. The girl drew back at the cold gaze. It softened slightly after a moment.
"Little one," she said in an enchanting, musical voice. "What are you doing in here? This cave is forbidden."
"I-I didn't know," the Acara squeaked. "I was cold, and I heard howling, and-"
"Shh, it is all right," the Lupess soothed. "You are safe." She stretched out a paw. "Come, I will take you somewhere warm."
The Acara gratefully took the paw. The Lupess pulled her to her feet and led her out of the cave. The Acara glanced back. "What was that?"
The Lupess sighed. "A mistake of mine, I am afraid. One of my worst."
Curious, the Acara looked up to her. A sad, pained look had entered the Lupess' eyes, only to disappear a minute later. "What is your name, young one?"
The Acara blinked. "I...I don't have a name. At least, not one I can remember."
"Curious," the Lupess mused as they reached another cave, this one with a ragged curtain hung across the entrance. The Lupess pushed it aside. Torches were bolted to the stone walls of the cave, the flickering flames sending the shadows dancing.
"Sit." The Lupess gestured to a bed. The Acara sat, her small legs not even close to touching the ground. The Shadow Lupess knelt down in front of her, holding up her paws. "Take my hands, little one."
She did. The Lupess closed her eyes. A shimmer seemed to take form around her, one that reminded the Acara of the overpowering heat of the Lost Desert. There was a flash and the Acara snapped her eyes shut. When she opened them a moment later, the Lupess had released her paws and opened her eyes. They glowed pure gold for a brief moment, then returned to their normal dark color.
"What was that?" the little Acara asked in awe.
"I was using my power to search for your name. The flash indicated that it was found. But the small details are unimportant. I am going to make you an offer." The Lupess stared into the Acara's eyes. "I can find a home for you, a home that you will remain in all your life. You will be cared for, you will be loved. Or you may take another path, one that will lead you to a powerful position, should you take opportunities when they arise. It is on this path that your old name will be returned to you."
"What kind of position?" the Acara asked, sounding out the last word.
"One that you will keep the rest of your life, if you heed my advice. I can offer no other hints. Choose, young one. Love, or your old name?"
"My name," she said without hesitation. "I want to know it."
"Are you sure?" the Lupess nodded. "Very well. You will be my student. I will train you far from here, in the Ice Cave lair, perhaps. But you will obey me, is that understood?"
"My name is Masila?"
"What is yours?"
The Lupess regarded her with eyes that carried the wisdom of another age, eyes that showed much emotion, much suffering. And the name she said fit her so well that any other name would have made no sense.
Masila clenched her teeth, pulling her purple cloak tighter around her. She hated Terror Mountain. She hated snow. She hated-
The Acara whirled around, hand flying to her small dagger. A Shadow Lupess stood not far behind her, the snow making her fur look even darker.
"Alkalia," Masila murmured, kneeling down in the snow. "It's been awhile."
"Too long, I fear. Obviously you have forgotten my lessons." Alkalia regarded her with cold, uncaring eyes. "I warned you that your emotions would lead to your downfall. You did not listen."
"I...I did not know where my loyalties lay."
"Your loyalties, or your heart?" Masila froze. "Yes, I know that you care for Kanrik. You allowed that to get in the way of your quest for power, and that is ultimately what led to your downfall. You are fortunate Kanrik survived the poison, or you would have had me to deal with. I do not appreciate one of my best students almost killed by another, Masila."
"Forgive me," Masila muttered, becoming colder by the second, but not daring to move. "I was rash, I was foolish, I-"
"I am not here to punish you, Masila."
Her confusion made her look up. "You're not?" the Green Acara asked, puzzled.
"I am here to collect you. The gift of Seeing has not yet left me. I am in need of a spy within the Order of the Red Erisim."
"The group of magic?"
"Yes. You will be in disguise. It has been arranged. I have acquired a ring from Qasala, created by King Razul himself, that will grant you magic. You will spy on this group and tell me what they know on Werelupes."
"It is not your place to question," Alkalia said, her voice colder than the mountain. "Or would you rather I return you to the cave I rescued you from, all those years ago?"
"No, I'll do it!" Masila said quickly, not wanting to face the creature within the darkness she had encountered so long ago. "I swear it. I will not fail you again."
Alkalia turned her back on the Acara. "See that you do not," she said as Masila got to her feet. She strode towards a tunnel on the side of one of the many hills of Terror Mountain, vanishing from sight.
Masila sighed in relief. She had never seen Alkalia truly angry, thank goodness, but she had the feeling that if she had refused to be a spy, part of that anger would have shown itself. And she had no desire to see Alkalia angry. There had been a hint of it in her eyes when she mentioned how Masila had nearly killed Kanrik.
Kanrik... whether Masila liked it or not, there was a soft spot for him in her heart. A small spot that she could shove away, but a spot that was there nonetheless. She would never be rid of it, and she wouldn't let it get in the way of her quest for power.
But... if she were to encounter Kanrik again... She was almost glad that the Usul, Hannah, had helped him. He was alive. And he needed not know that she was as well. Let him think that she had disappeared.
Let everyone think that. Perhaps Neopia was better off without the Mistress of the Double-Cross. Maybe... she was better off as well.