There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 128,277,782 Issue: 261 | 13th day of Collecting, Y8
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Rising Shadow: Part One


by sarahleeadvent

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Author's note: Although it is more of a follow-up than a sequel and can be easily read and understood independently, this series does come after the events in 'Whisper on the Wind', so although it is not necessary I do recommend that you read it.

Lothan gaped for a moment at the strange spectacle, then clutched at his middle as laughter consumed him. "Oi, everybody! Look at this!"

      Gasps and murmurs filled the air as the inhabitants of the small Meridellian village gathered around three glaring Techos, who had been bound hand and foot, tied together by their tails, and left dangling from the sign outside a small store. Their dark clothing and the masks on their faces were evidence enough of their intentions, and the villagers laughed and elbowed each other as the would-be thieves were taken down and led away, all three of them muttering curses against the Shoyru who had foiled them.

      "I've heard of him," a Kacheek said to Lothan. "Seems most of the scoundrels in the prison were brought in by that Shoyru."

      The blue Draik nodded knowingly. The famous (or infamous) Shoyru Scout had mysteriously disappeared several weeks ago, resulting in a record number of crimes throughout the nearby villages. It was good to know he was back.

      Suddenly a fresh commotion erupted in the northern end of town, and Lothan turned along with the others, craning his thin neck to see the source of the clamor. As the shouting spread to those standing near to him and the words became distinguishable, the Draik felt his eyes widen and the blood drain from his face. That's impossible, he thought, but his eyes and ears told him otherwise.

      ~^~^~^~^~^~^~

      A small green Shoyru crouched in the branches of a tree, unnoticed by the churning crowd. A smile crept across her face as she watched the Techos' arrest, then faded into a frown as the comments of the people reached her ears. She was not Torshac, although she had met him and was currently dressed like him. The young Neopet shook her head. Torshac was still missing, and although she was not certain, she had some idea of where he had gone. In any case, his location would not remain a mystery to her for long.

      His... and several others'. The Shoyru's frown deepened, a dark sense of foreboding creeping over her like a shadow as an Acara and a Gelert clattered through the streets on their white Unis, spreading the news that had already reached the young pet's keen ears: King Skarl, along with Sir Jeran, had mysteriously disappeared while taking a ride in the woods; and Lisha had received a message warning her that she was on the abductor's list. The young Aisha had been placed under special guard, but nobody really believed that this would keep the mysterious villain at bay. The King had already been under the usual constant guard; why should a few extra escorts prevent Lisha from sharing his fate? Kayla, Morris and Boris seemed to have been ignored, but they, too, were now under increased security (much to the annoyance of the latter two, who loudly insisted that they were knights who could protect themselves).

      The Shoyru shook her head. No, the guards would not save them. Nor had anyone been able to save the others around Neopia who had disappeared; the vanishings were not limited to Meridell alone. And what troubled the Shoyru most was the status of those who had been taken: kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights, generals, warriors and officials who should have been relatively secure. And yet they had vanished, with little or no sign of the abductor, as if the criminal responsible were laughing in Neopia's face from behind his mask of obscurity. Nobody seemed to know who he was, or where he would strike next.

      "But I know you," the young Shoyru whispered under her breath. "And you know enough about me to know that I can't let you do this."

      This said, she rustled her wings and lifted off into the air, swooping away in silence, still unnoticed by the agitated crowd.

      ~^~^~^~^~^~^~

      Sally bounded from tree to tree, her heart leaping along with her body as a springy branch bent and rebounded, sending her sailing toward the next limb. Every leap was fearless and sure, and the young Usul took great pleasure in flying through the forest.

      But it was almost time for dinner, and whether she liked it or not Sally would have to stop playing and go home. Turning her antics in the direction of the farmhouse, Sally sprang away, her light feet carrying her at a speed few Neopets could equal in the treetops. All too soon the forest came to an end, and the Usul was forced to abandon the trees in favor of dull and ordinary ground.

      Sally was just leaving the last of the saplings at the forest's edge behind her when a rustle of leaves caught her ears; and whirling around in surprise she found herself staring into a pair of limpid orbs, which gazed back at her as if studying her mind. The dark, liquid eyes contemplated her for a moment, and as she continued to stare at them Sally became aware of a Shadow Kougra's face, its shape partly obscured by the leaves of the bush from which it peered. "Sally," the Kougra said in a low, cool, fluid voice, "I need to speak with you."

      For a moment the young Usul was too startled to respond. She had seen this Kougra before- on several occasions, in fact- but the strange creature still remained something of an enigma to her. Her fur was darker than that of most Shadow Kougras, the stripes only slightly blacker than the rest of her body, and her pupils and irises were bottomless pools of night, while the whites of her eyes contrasted sharply with the midnight hue of her body like moons in a starless sky. Sally had first caught sight of her soon after she had found Mr. Scary hiding in her barn. The strange Kougra had almost escaped her notice at first, lingering like a silent wraith halfway around the corner of the barn with only her head, shoulders and forelegs in view. If it hadn't been for the snowy shimmer of reflected moonlight in the whites of her eyes Sally would have missed her entirely; but as it was, the sighting had been brief, for the Kougra had only lingered long enough to stare at the young Usul strangely and deposit an assortment of odd and exotic-looking fruit beside the barn door before vanishing into the night. Sally had fed the fruit to Mr. Scary, and although she kept her eyes open and the fruit had kept on coming it had been several months before she saw the Kougra again. The second time the two had met, the enigmatic creature had sought Sally out deliberately while the young Usul was doing her morning chores in the farmyard. The encounter had been brief and confusing. The Kougra had padded directly up to Sally, who had frozen in place, staring at the approaching stranger uneasily and wondering whether to call for her parents. The Kougra's serene and solemn manner had convinced her to remain silent, and Sally had simply stood there wide-eyed as the feline figure came right up to her, placed a delicate paw on her small shoulder, looked her in the eyes and said quietly in her soft, cool, liquid voice, "Thank you."

      "Thank you for what?" Sally had asked, and the Kougra's eyes had grown even more distant and contemplative than they had been before. There even seemed to be a hint of sadness in her expression, although it hadn't been clear enough for Sally to be sure.

      "For a series of kind deeds whose full impact you may not realize yet." The Kougra's gaze had lingered a moment longer before she added, "Thank you for helping him."

      And with that she had turned and loped away, leaving Sally to call after her, "Are you talking about Mr. Scary?" The question had gone unanswered, but Sally suspected she had been right.

      And now the strange creature was back, her sleek form shrouded in the partial concealment of the bush and the unfathomable depths of her eyes seeming to pour into Sally like a searching and contemplative flood. There was also a flicker of urgency there, and although her body was partly hidden by the myriad of leaves it seemed to Sally that her slender and seemingly delicate form radiated strength. "You need to go directly home," the Kougra continued, and Sally blinked in confusion.

      "Why?"

      "I do not have time to explain it fully, but you are soon to receive some dire news, and you must be on your guard, for I am not certain how directly the danger may pertain to you. Please, do not take any chances. I know you only by watching you, but I do not want you to be harmed."

      "Why were you watching me? And who are you?"

      "My name is irrelevant. As for why I was watching you... that requires an explanation that would take more time than I have. Please, just trust me on this. I need to go, and quickly- if something is not done soon then things will only get worse. Goodbye, Sally."

      And with that she was off, springing forward and slipping out of the bush with scarcely a leaf disturbed before bounding away into the woods, leaving Sally to stare after her in confusion.

      The young Usul's skin suddenly crawled, and she looked around uneasily, half expecting a monster to materialize out of the forest and attack her. Turning away, she raced for home as if pursued by a Werelupe, suddenly feeling that she could not reach the front door fast enough and wondering if she would be safe even there. Something about the strange Kougra's manner warned her that things were worse than she had revealed, and it occurred to Sally to wonder if Mr. Scary was all right, and if he was aware of whatever was worrying the Kougra.

      ~^~^~^~^~^~^~

      As she padded along on her silent way among the trees, the Kougra hesitated, cheating time for a moment to glance back in quiet contemplation. Studying Sally, just as she had studied her on that day when Lord Darigan had revealed himself to the young Usul. The Shadow pet blinked, remembering with heart-searing vividness the startled delight on Sally's face, and the warmth that had spread across Darigan's as he thanked her for her aid.

      Aid in which the Kougra had played a part: a part that seemed to be remembered by none, although it had often come with great pain and cost to herself. Working behind the scenes, hidden within a shroud of secrecy, she had laboured hard and long in the performing of an endless task, in which even the many tribulations of the lord of the Citadel had composed only a small part. Her long toil had been as thankless as it had been dangerous- But so it must be, she silently told herself.

      For while it had long been forced aside by the burden which she had laid upon herself, some small, hidden part of her still held a quiet hope: a hope which had little chance of being realized, and yet somehow had managed to survive against the storms with which the years had assailed it.

      But for the moment, it must be set aside once more. Shaking herself free of her ponderings, the Kougra turned and raced on, speeding away into the depths of the forest to continue her unending mission.

To be continued...

 
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