This is a lot longer than last chapter. Just a heads up.
There's an idea of Reese's in here involving mistletoe, as well as a reference to a future HJ thing. Credits for both go to Reese.
The Month of Celebrating (December) at age 13
When I was awoken by someone poking my shoulder at some sort of ridiculously early time (I later found out it was six- six!), my first thought was Violet. I sat bolt upright and looked in the direction of the perpetrator. However, I realised it wasn't Violet just before I snapped at them, which I'm sure saved me a lot of tears on their part.
Jip was kneeling on the floor, fully dressed, grinning like a maniac. Sophia was sitting behind him, groggily rubbing her eyes; I'm assuming he woke her up before me.
"What, Jip?" I ask sleepily as the boy jumped over me and nudged Violet gently with his foot. I looked over at Theresa's bed. It's empty. "And what've you done with Theresa?"
"Nothing!" Jip insists defensively. "Sam woke her and Dylan up about ten minutes ago."
Violet finally woke up and rolled over, glaring at Jip without even bothering to sit up. "It's, like, three in the morning, Jip!"
"Six, actually." Sophia corrected. Violet rolled her eyes and pressed her face into her pillow. "Oh, come on, Violet. It's not that bad."
"Speak for yourself." Violet's voice was muffled by her pillow. "Ladies do not get up at six in the morning."
"Technically…" Sophia drew out, smiling smugly. "You're not a lady."
Violet groaned into her pillow.
I slithered out of my sleeping back and raked my fingers through my messy red hair, turning to face Jip as I tried to rectify my tangles.
"What did you wake us up for, exactly?" I asked.
Jip smiled mischievously. "Sam said to keep it secret." He started heading for the door. "Get dressed, guys. I'll wait in the corridor outside."
Violet kicked straight into action, even if she complained the whole while about how 'the sun isn't even up yet' and 'this is so stupid'. She finished whilst I was still trying to pull on a pair of jeans and Sophia was rummaging through Theresa's drawers in search of a t-shirt that would fit her- clothes wasn't exactly at the top of Sophia's replacements list after the fire, and Theresa was more than happy to let us borrow her shirts and trousers if need be.
Moments after she left the room, Violet came storming back in, slamming the door behind her.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Luke said I can't wear my skirt." She looked down at the knee-length skirt she was wearing. "He said it's too short."
I looked at Theresa's set of drawers. "I guess you'll just have to borrow a pair of Theresa's trousers."
"YES!" Violet squealed, dashing over to the drawers and flinging the one containing the trousers open. Sophia rolled her eyes but said nothing. Theresa is still Violet's favourite role-model.
After about five minutes of waiting, I grew bored. I'm an action girl, and sitting around giving my fashion-obsessed best friend hair advice whilst my other best friend tries- and fails- to be discreet as she laughs in the corner isn't exactly fun.
I opened the door to find Luke leaning against the wall opposite, arms crossed.
"What, exactly, are we doing?" I asked him as I pulled Theresa's bedroom door shut behind me. As much as I'm sure Luke wouldn't even consider sneaking a glance into the bedroom when he knew Sophia and Violet were getting changed, I figured the latter of the two girls at least would be furious at the slightest indication he had. If the door was shut, we were covered.
Luke gave me a small smirk.
"And what have you done with Jip?" I glanced up and down the corridor, anxiously searching for the kid.
"He's gone to meet Sam and Theresa." Luke explained casually, like there was nothing weird about waking us up at six in the morning, without warning, at all. "They're in the courtyard. And I can't tell you why Sam wanted to call us all together; it's a secret. For the moment, anyway."
"You can tell me." I tried to weasel it out of Luke. "I won't tell the others."
Luke snickered and insisted, in a very dramatic voice, "I have sworn to secrecy!" Then, far more seriously, he added, "No, honestly; if I told you, then I'd have to kill you."
It took me a moment to figure out that he was joking (his tone was that serious!), but eventually his calm demeanour collapsed and he burst out laughing. I started laughing too. By the time the door behind me opened, I was resting my head against the wall opposite because I no longer had the strength to hold myself upright and Luke was slowly sliding down the wall next to me. Both of us still laughing uncontrollably.
"We leave you two alone for, what, two minutes?" Sophia pretended to scold us. "And look what happens!"
"Sorry," Luke said as the two of us struggled to keep a straight face. "Miss… Clair!" And, again with the laughing. Sophia rolled her eyes.
"Where exactly are we going, Mr. Leof?" She asked Luke.
Biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing, Luke nodded his head down the corridor in the direction he intended to take us before setting off. Sophia looked at my snickering self and smiled slightly before grabbing Violet's wrist and dragging her after Luke, knowing I'd follow.
As we stepped outside, Violet screamed.
"It's snowing!" She squealed. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"I told him that I'd kill him if he did." Sam said as he strode over, ruffling Luke's hair as he did so. "Or at least wind him up severely."
Behind Sam, Dylan stooped and began gathering a handful of snow.
"Sam, look-" Sophia's warning came too late, as a ball of snow thwacked into the back of Sam's skull.
The kyrii turned round slowly, almost like he couldn't quite believe what had just happened. Dylan laughed and held up a hand, which Theresa reached over Jip's head to high-five.
"That was stupid." Sam said flatly, reaching down to grab his own handful of snow. He compacted it into a ball as he straightened up again and threw it at Dylan's face. "There!" And he stuck his tongue out at him.
"Honestly, Sammy," Theresa scolded. "I'd have thought you'd learnt not to act like a small child…" Sam's face fell, and it was only when Theresa gathered her own handful of snow and grinned at him evilly that his childish smirk returned. "Without me!" She hurled it at him, but he side-stepped it and it landed in Violet's fringe.
She screamed and furiously began trying to dust the white snow out of her hair. I rolled my eyes as Sophia swatted her hands away and told her it would melt soon enough.
"But then my hair will be all wet!" She complained.
"Just the front bit." Sophia insisted. "Stop being such a baby."
"Shut up!" I interrupted quickly, before it could erupt into a fall-blown fight. I really wouldn't put it past those two. Before I could add anything to that statement, I felt something collide with the back of my head.
I spun round and found Jip standing a little way away, his green woollen gloves covered in flecks of snow. He gave me a weak smile.
"Oooooooooh." Dylan drew out behind him. "Now you're for it."
I gathered my own handful of snow and threw it at the kid, who squeaked as it collided with his stomach. Luke threw a ball of snow at my shoulder
"Because friends stick together." He insisted.
Which prompted Violet to throw a snowball at him, echoing his words in a sugar-sweet tone that couldn't have been anything except sarcastic.
It turned quickly into a fall-blown snowball fight. Violet, Sophia and I stuck together for the most part, as did Luke and Jip, Sam and Theresa. Which left Dylan who, after a moment of pretending to sulk due to his lack of a team, joined Luke and Jip.
"That's not fair." Sam pouted. "You guys have more people than us."
"I'm easily worth two people." Theresa assured him. "We'll be fine."
It was great fun, even if it left our teeth chattering afterwards. Violet screamed every time she was hit, which Luke and Jip found hilarious. So, of course, they just aimed for her that little bit more.
The battle was in full swing when Captain French decided to walk through the courtyard. He walked past just as Sam threw a snowball that was intended to hit Dylan. Unfortunately, it hit the Captain.
He stopped, dusted the snow off of his sleeve, and looked at Sam sternly.
"This isn't very professional behaviour, is it, Samuel?" He said flatly.
"But it's snowing!" Sam insisted. I swear, sometimes that guy has the reasoning of a five year old kid. "Nothing bad could possibly happen whilst it's snowing!"
The gate swung open and a bundled-up figure walked in.
"Pippin." Violet hissed.
"Sam!" Theresa slapped his arm, pretending to be angry with him. "You've jinxed us!"
"Hello, Sir!" Pippin waved, pulling his scarf away from his face and quickening his pace to meet the Captain. "I'd just like to visit my wife, please."
"Future wife!" Violet hissed, storming towards him. "Any excitement I might've had about this wedding has officially died. Ivy's her own person and she will be treated as such."
"Looks like the Guard's getting to your head." Pippin countered, looking at me and Sophia; we stood side-by-side just over Violet's shoulders.
"Oh, go away." Sophia dismissed. "What Violet does is none of your business."
"We're family now." Pippin attempted a smile. Violet stomped on his foot. Hard. He cursed and shifted his weight from it.
"Not yet." She hissed.
"Now, now, Miss Adonai." Captain French scolded. "If this man wants to visit Ivy, he's more than free to do so."
"Thank you." Pippin said, shooting a furious glare at Violet. "Which direction is it?"
Captain French looked at me. "Miss Brynneth, I can trust you."
As we headed down to the dungeons, I asked Pippin how on Neopia he could possibly be getting married. He doesn't look too much older than me, and Ivy even less so.
"We have some traditions, in Uptown." He explained casually. From the tired tone, I guessed he'd had to have this conversation several times with several different people. "And one, unimaginatively called 'The Tradition', means we've got to get betrothed by a certain age; it varies. There are loopholes, one of which Miss Adonai and Master Windsor have discovered." Violet and Harry. "And…" He stopped walking. "Look, it's all very complicated. Why don't I just give you the book or something?"
"The… Book?" I repeated, feeling a little bewildered and very lost.
He sighed. "Yes, the book."
"I'll find some means of getting it to you." He confirmed. We set off again.
When we reached Ivy's cell, she waved cheerily.
"It's a bit nippy, isn't it, Brynn?" She said, ignoring Pippin completely.
"It's snowing." I informed her. Her eyes widened.
"And I'm missing it?!" She gasped. I nodded and she slumped against the far wall. "This sucks."
"You did burn our base to the ground." I pointed out.
"To save a friend." She insisted. "You'd probably do the same."
"Ivy." Pippin interrupted, stepping up to the bars.
Ivy stared at him for a moment, as if this was the first time she'd ever seen him and she was trying to figure out whether or not she should run away. "Oh." She said eventually. "You again."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Pippin demanded.
Ivy examined the nails of her right hand casually. "It means, my dear fiancé, that I've realised you seem to be visiting an awful lot."
"I'd visit an awful lot more, if I had the time."
"No, I'm quite alright with the current arrangement." She assured him quickly, giving me a pointed look. "Even if it is freezing."
"There are prison cells up in the tower." I informed her. "They tend to be a little warmer, but they hardly ever use them. If prison was too cosy, people would want to be arrested."
"Splendid." Ivy beamed. "I'll have to bring that up with Seraphinus."
"Who's he?" Pippin asked suspiciously. Ivy laughed.
"Don't you worry your pretty little head, dear." She waved her left hand for emphasis of her point here. "Sir Seraphinus is the guard on duty half the time, that's all! I haven't had a flurry of men here while you were gone." She paused for a moment, as if contemplating that thought. "Actually, that sounds like it could be quite a bit of fun."
"No." I drew out warningly. She laughed again. It was a very melodic sound for someone who hardly comes across as girly; very much like Violet's laugh, now I think about it.
"I was just joking, Brynn!" She snickered. "Pip's so easy to wind up!"
"It's Pippin." He emphasised agitatedly. "If these bars weren't here, you wouldn't be anywhere near to spiteful."
"Want a bet?"
Pippin growled, which just caused Ivy to laugh at him again. As the boy beside me grew more and more angry, I figured it would be best if I escorted him out soon. I tried to politely get his attention, but none of my efforts worked. In the end, I resorted to poking his shoulder.
He turned and glared at me. "Yes, little peasant-girl?"
I blinked at him. And then I was angry. Very angry.
"Hey." Ivy said from behind the bars, pretending to be offended. "Only I get to call Brynn a 'peasant'."
"We'll be leaving now, Sir." I spat, looking at Ivy and adding in a much friendlier tone. "If that's alright with you?"
"It's fine by me." She smiled innocently. "I don't really care if he never comes back."
"Why, you horrid little-"
I grabbed Pippin's arm and started trying to drag him down the corridor before he snapped the prison bars and physically attacked Ivy; crazy as it sounds, he looked angry enough to do both. Not too far down the corridor, he brought his free arm round to try and smack me. It never hit. I watched as a hand clamped round his wrist and held it a safe distance away from me. Craning me neck, and still holding Pippin's other arm, I looked round him to see who it was.
Jonas stood by the bars of his cell, holding Pippin's arm through the gap. He shot me a smile so much like his sister's.
"Hey, kid." He said gently. "I figured a friend of Theresa's is a friend of mine."
"I'm not letting you out." I stated.
"What?" He looked genuinely surprised for a moment, but quickly regained his composure. "No, no, of course not! I'm just being helpful."
"Why?" I was suspicious. And, if I'm honest, what reason did I have not to be?
"You can't always trust what Ritch says, kid." He told me bluntly. "The boy doesn't know what he's talking about."
"I've hardly ever known him to be wrong."
"You've hardly known him at all, then." He gestured for me to raise one hand- the one that wasn't gripping Pippin's wrist. I did so and he handed me the rich boy's other arm, nodding toward the door. "Take him away, kid."
By the time we reached the courtyard, Pippin had stopped fighting against me. He was still swearing at me, using several different words I never actually knew existed until that moment.
"How'd it go?" Violet cooed sweetly, the grin on her face making it clear she knew exactly what her cousin was like in these situations.
"You're all the bloody same!" Pippin snapped at her as I released his arms and took a step backwards. "You Adonai girls; all the fucking same!"
Violet's eyes widened, but her smug smirk removed any ideas that she was angry immediately. She'd been expecting this sort of thing to happen.
"I'm so glad I won't have to be dealing with you boys." She told him brightly. "Not ever, if I don't want to."
"Black will try to take you out of the Guard, Violet!" Pippin growled at her. "You'll see."
"He can try, dear." She said in a way scarily like Ivy's; sweet, teasing, and laced with an underlying threat. "Bye bye now." She waved and pushed him toward the gate. He scowled at her and stormed off.
Thank sweet Fyora; he's alive! Oh, right, beginning. Sorry.
For once, Violet wasn't the only one anxious to get our patrol over as soon as possible. It was freezing, and the tunics they give our age bracket really don't do much in the way of fighting off the cold.
So, I was shivering and my teeth were chattering, and Violet wasn't in a much better state. As we walked through the market, a flash of blue fur caught my eye. Immediately, I was walking towards it. Violet rolled her eyes and stalked after me, rambling on about something or another unimportant.
When I reached the line containing he-of-the-blue-fur, the guy turned round and narrowed his eyes at us. A gelert. Not an ixi thief. I can't help but think I looked a little disappointed.
"Sorry for my friend's behaviour." Violet quickly dipped in. "She's a little batty, always trying to talk to strangers." She looked at me. "Bad Brynn! Bad Brynn!" She looked at me pointedly.
I stared at my feet, which were partially submerged in the snow. "Sorry, sir. I don't know what came over me; it won't happen again."
He made a 'huff' noise. Violet elbowed me and we speed-walked away.
It wasn't until we were bordering Uptown that we dared speak again. Or rather, stare at each-other and burst into fits of giggles. Boy, was that scenario embarrassing! But so funny to look back on!
I was just about to suggest that we turn round and walk back when I saw another blue neopet. Only this time he was coming down the road, out of Uptown, towards us. And he was definitely Hanso.
"You're alive!" I said, before I could stop myself.
"Smooth." Violet whispered sarcastically. I elbowed her.
Hanso stopped in front of us and waited a long moment before speaking. "Aw, what? No hug?"
"Wh- well…" I quickly regained myself. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course." He grinned, sarcasm dripping from his voice.
Violet looked from Hanso to me and back again, raising an eyebrow. "Hug? Do elaborate on that, Brynneth, dear."
"There's nothing to elaborate on." I insisted, narrowing my eyes at Hanso when he gave me a bright grin. If he said anything…
"Brynneth Marisol Chevalier." Violet said sternly.
"Drop it." I hissed. "There's nothing to tell."
"Well." Hanso cleared his throat. "Miss Adonai, you're looking well."
She folded her arms. "That's because I am. How about you? Where'd you scamper off to? You scared Brynn half to death."
I trod on Violet foot as hard, and as subtly, as I could. She didn't show any sign of it hurting other than a small, quiet hiss of air that slipped between her front teeth. She gave me a small, secret look that said 'I'll get you later'. I rolled my eyes at her.
"Well, I'm sorry about that." Hanso said sincerely. "Sometimes you just have business to do, and you have to dash off and… Well, do it. Right?"
I chose to ignore Violet's snickers beside me; dirty-minded girl that she's become. "Of course. Just… Send a message next time or something, right?"
He looked unsure. "Uh, if I get chance?"
"Is that a question or an answer?"
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose between thumb and finger in frustration. "You're impossible, do you know that?"
He grinned that cocky grin of his. "Yep."
Violet coughed pointedly, turning mine and Hanso's attention back to her. "Well, thief, have you stolen anything?"
"No." Hanso said, confused. "Why?"
"Well, then," She huffed. "We're wasting time talking to you. Let's go, Brynn." I opened my mouth to protest, but she grabbed my wrist and started walking back the way we'd come. I managed to raise my free hand and wave, earning me a cheerful wave back from Hanso, but that was all.
Upon our return to Base, we headed up to Theresa's room to get changed into something warmer than our uniforms. We opened the door to find the room's owner lying on her bed, laughing hysterically. Sam was sitting at the pillow end of her bed, his head resting on the headboard, laughing too. Dylan sat at the foot end, biting his lip in a vain attempt from going the same way as the other two.
"What's going on?" I asked, kneeling down to untie my boots. "And where are the others?"
"Sam asked Soph to take the boys out and explain what happened in 'nice terms'." Dylan stopped snickering long enough to explain. "Fyora, you guys missed it!" Cue giggles.
"Missed what?" Violet pressed.
"Harry." Theresa snickered. "Pippin. My goodness, Vi! It was hilarious!"
Violet's eyes widened. "Pippin? He was here? Again?"
Theresa nodded. "Yes. Tried to see Ivy."
"Did he get to?"
"Nope." Theresa laughed harder.
Well, it was clear we weren't going to get much information out of those three. "Where's Harry now?" I asked.
"The medical room." Sam managed to tell us. "Got a bit bashed up."
"Thanks." I grabbed Violet's hand and dragged her from the room. It was only when we were halfway down the corridor that I realised I only had one shoe on, but I really didn't feel like going back for the other one.
I raised a hand to knock on the medical room door, but Violet just pushed it open and dragged me in behind her.
"Hello." She said brightly, like this was an everyday situation. A plump, friendly-looking mynci who's name I don't know looked at her cautiously.
"What can I do for you?" She asked.
"My friend got injured earlier." Violet's eyes began to water, and her bottom lip began to quiver. "We're really worried about him; can we see him?"
The woman smiled kindly. "Yes, dear, of course. Through that door there." She pointed to a white door to the right.
"Thank you." I said politely as Violet smiled her thanks and let out a small whimper.
When we were behind the white door, and had closed it behind us, Violet's expression immediately brightened.
"Piece of cake." She announced gleefully. I rolled my eyes and turned to scan the room behind me. I pteri with a bucket labelled 'sick' beside him offered me a weak smile, which I nervously returned.
"Well, well, well." Came an all too familiar voice. "If I had a list of people I expected to visit me, you wouldn't even be on it."
"Charming." Violet noted sarcastically, pushing past me and heading over to stand by his chair. I followed like some sort of lost little puppyblew, feeling pretty stupid for doing so.
Harry had bruise forming on his arm; the sleeve had clearly been rolled up so that the nurses could get to it. On top of that, he was holding a pack of frozen peas against his jaw.
"What happened?" I asked. "All we could get out of Sam, Theresa and Dylan was giggles."
He smiled. "I won."
"Won what, though?" I said, confused. This was making no sense. At all.
"I was helping Mario out in the dungeons." Mario flittered round my head before connecting with that techo guy who always gets into arguments with Theresa over seeing Jonas. So that's his name! "And Theresa tried to sneak in to see her brother. Of course, she would never manage alone. So Sammy-boy was there too. When, eventually, Mario insisted that she wasn't to see him, the two stormed off. I said I'd go calm her down. Because I'm nice like that."
"Of course." Violet agreed sarcastically. He smirked.
"I'd just caught up with them in the corridor when we heard footsteps. Which, naturally, we followed." He caught mine and Violet's raised eyebrows. "What? Don't lie; you two would've done the same."
"Fair point." I agreed.
"It turned out it was Manzana." Harry continued.
"Which one?" Violet asked. "Crispie?"
"Pippin, genius." Harry rolled his eyes. My mind jumped back to last week's visit.
"He didn't get near Ivy, did he?" I asked before I could stop myself. Violet gave me a proud smile, like I was doing something she approved of. And I guess I was; I was showing that I care what happens to her cousin. Because, even if I'm angry that she burnt our training base to a crisp, she helped us catch Jonas. And she doesn't seem like a bad person, just not exactly good.
"I'm getting there, I'm getting there." Harry rolled his eyes. "Jeez."
"Well sor-ree." I said in a very Violet-like fashion. He raised an eyebrow at me, quickly cottoning onto this fact, and I bit back a snicker.
"I came up behind him, and I said 'Why hello there, Pippy'." Harry said with a grin. Violet burst out laughing.
"Did he hit you?" She asked. Harry's eyes flitted to the bag of peas against his jaw and back up again. "Is that a 'yes'?"
"Have I gotta spell everything out for you?"
He sighed. "Yes, Violet. He punched me. In the jaw."
"Idiot." Violet muttered. "What'd you do to him?"
Harry's grin widened even further. "Hit him back, of course."
"Let me get this straight." I said. "You had a full-on fight with a visitor in full view of four other guards, not to mention all the prisoners. Correct?"
"Yeah…" Harry sighed. "I guess so."
I smiled. "Good for you; he seemed like he deserved it."
"That's the spirit, Brynn!" Violet beamed.
"He left with a bleeding nose and a badly bruised shoulder." Harry said casually, adding, "Before he had chance to see Ivy."
"Thank you." Violet gushed. "You have no idea how much this means to me! It's really creepy how he insists on seeing her so often, and…"
"I think Ivy's more than capable of dealing with him herself." I pointed out.
Violet nodded in agreement. "But I'm still grateful."
Harry flexed his bruised arm to restore feeling to it. "I know."
The two of us left. On the way out, the mynci nurse commented on how much happier Violet looked. She shot me a confused expression before remembering her little act and smiling at the woman.
"I'm just glad I got to see him, that's all." She explained innocently.
As we left, I found myself wondering whether Violet's a very good actress or if that mynci nurse is very stupid. I think it's a little bit of both.
The last week before I go home for Christmas.
When I woke up this morning, Sam was long gone. Everyone was gone, in fact. My heart was gripped with utter dread, especially when the only person in the room was Harry. He sat on the edge of Theresa's bed casually, and grinned at me as I clambered out of my sleeping bag.
"Were you watching me?" I asked him suspiciously.
His eyes twinkled slightly. "Maybe."
I picked up my pillow and threw it at him.
"Hey, hey, hey!" He said hurriedly. "I was joking!"
I folded my arms. "Where are the others?"
He raised a hand and began counting them off on his fingers. "Sammy went shopping, Theresa is teaching Little Miss Firecracker some archery out in the courtyard, Bookworm's in the library, Dylan's helping Mandy with something or another, and Fyora knows where the Dynamic Duo have got to."
My brain ran over that list for a moment, trying to piece together what the heck was going on, even though it was still terribly sleepy. "Hold on… What time is it?"
"Half ten." He said casually. "Ten thirty am. Thirty minutes past ten o'clock."
I let out a small scream and threw Blue at him. "And why didn't anybody wake me up?!"
He caught Blue before she collided with his face. "Calm down, Sleeping Beauty."
I looked around for something else to throw at him, and eventually resorted to picking up Violet's pillow.
"Woah!" he hopped off the bed, holding Blue by her paw, and strode across the room, yanking the pillow out of my grasp. Tossing Violet's pillow casually over his shoulder, he lifted Blue up to his eye-level and studied her closely. "Didn't I throw this thing into the soup years ago?"
I glared at him and snatched my favourite toy away. "Yes."
"And you're still mad about it?"
I narrowed my eyes at him.
"Gee, hold a grudge much?"
"You were a complete and utter idiot, Harry!" I blurted out, exasperated. I pushed past him to pick my pillow up and settled it down at the head end for my sleeping bag. I gently tossed Blue down to the centre of my pillow and turned to find Harry watching me casually.
"That was harsh, Chevalier." He said bluntly.
I took me a moment to remember what I said. When I did, I found my arms folding of their own accord. "It's true though, and you know that."
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't."
I sighed, frustrated. "What the heck are you doing here anyway? Why didn't they just leave me to wake up; they don't usually hate me so much as to leave me with you."
He rolled his eyes. "Look, I have nowhere better to be. Besides, I I have a plan and need some advice."
I raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think I'll give you advice, Sir Harry?"
"Um… Because I'm amazing?"
"You're going to have to try harder than that, Windsor."
Harry looked at his feet. "I may, sorta, need some help?"
I felt the corners of my mouth quirk up in a smile; Harry, asking for my help. "Really now?"
He looked up and glared at me. "It's not funny!"
"I never said it was."
"You're trying not to laugh!"
I didn't reply, merely bit my bottom lip. It was just too much to bear! Harry is usually so tough, so convinced he's better than I am, yet there he was, asking for my help. Why wouldn't I laugh?
"Look, are you going to help me, or not?" He asked eventually.
I studied my bare feet for a moment, the way the ends of my pyjama bottoms didn't quite reach my ankles. And then back up at the older guard. "Depends on what it is."
A few minutes later, I was following Harry Windsor through the Base and to the dungeons. Still wearing my pyjamas, might I add! He hadn't given me chance to change.
Walking bare-footed along the carpeted corridors was fine, but the steps leading down to the dungeons, and the dungeon corridor itself, are both fitted with stone. Which is utterly freezing at this time of year.
By the time we reached the stone steps to the dungeons, I was shivering uncontrollably. The techo- Mario- gave me a sympathetic smile, which I returned shakily (my teeth were chattering! It's hard to smile when that happens!) and followed Harry on.
He stopped outside Ivy's cell.
"Ivy!" He called out. She folded her arms and leant against the far wall of her cell.
"You again?" She complained, though she was smiling slightly. Her eyes flitted to me. "With Brynneth, no less?"
"He dragged me down here." I quickly told her.
She laughed brightly, which was an odd thing to do in a prison cell. "That sounds like Harry."
"I have an idea." Harry told her flatly.
"Uh oh!" She said dramatically, unfolding her arms so that she could place one hand to her forehead dramatically, using the other to fan herself as though she thought she might faint.
"Ha ha, very funny." Harry said in a monotone. "Ivy, this plan involves Aves, so it'd be in your best interests to listen."
She immediately put her hands down by her sides and stood up straight. "I'm listening."
Harry detailed a plan involving Hawk, Cerise, and a whole manner of complicated wording I wasn't one hundred per cent certain I understood. At the end of it, I asked him what exactly all this had to do with me.
"They can get to your house without abuse being hurled at them." Harry explained. "And, as much as I hate the guy," Ivy glared at him. "No-one deserves to have abuse thrown at them on Christmas."
"Harry has a heart." I teased. "Who'd have thought it?"
Ivy laughed, but quickly returned to her previous business-like tone. "Would you be alright with that, Brynn?" She asked, pausing for a moment. "Hold on, do you still live in that teeny tiny hut."
"It's not a hut!" I argued defensively. "It's just a very small bungalow!"
"Same thing." Ivy insisted.
"Girls!" Harry interrupted before it could turn into a full-scale argument. "Do we have a deal here or what?"
I studied Ivy carefully. With a calculating glare, she reached a hand through the bars. I reached out and took it, shaking it firmly. Harry took Ivy's other hand in one of his, mine in his other, and shook them both harshly. Afterward, I felt like my arm might fall out of its socket and, judging my the way Ivy was clutching her shoulder, she did too.
Harry noticed this and laughed.
"Can I go get dressed now?" I asked bitterly. "I'm cold."
I was sitting in Theresa's room- alone- feeling rather bitter with the fact that everyone had abandoned me whilst I was asleep when the door flung open. Theresa stepped into her bedroom and held the door open. Sam entered with a pile of presents so high I couldn't see his face, and Violet followed behind carrying a few more.
"Look what we found coming in through the courtyard!" She announced, tossing the boxes she was holding to the side.
"Hey, careful!" Sam scolded her as he lowered his own lot and stood, stretching his arms like a kadotie. "There's some delicate stuff there!"
Violet stuck her tongue out at him as Theresa closed the door and pulled her gloves off, leaning against the wall so she could unlace her boots.
"What did you get, anyway?" Theresa asked, looking up at him with a teasing smile. "Very manly hobby, shopping."
Sam folded his arms. "You can buy your own Christmas presents, then."
"Presents?!" Violet repeated, her eyes scanning the pile. "That's a lot."
"Yeah, well," The kyrii reminded me so much of a little kid. "It's Christmas, Robin! Show me some excitement!"
"Yay!" Violet jumped up and down on the spot, clapping her hands together. After a few seconds of that, she stopped and said in a monotone, "We aren't five, Samuel."
"Just pretend, Vi," Theresa said, wrenching her second boot off and walking across the room. "That's how I get by."
Sam refused to let us touch the presents until everyone was back from wherever they'd been. Dylan came back first, heading straight to Theresa's bed and collapsing face-first onto it.
"What did you do?" Theresa asked him from across the room.
"Shemademecarryboxes." He mumbled, his voice muffled by the mattress.
He hadn't moved when Luke and Jip burst the door down. The latter's hair was covered in paper streamers, whilst Luke had chocolate smeared round his mouth. I later learned that they'd been in the canteen, helping the dinner ladies decorate and 'testing' the edible decorations when no-one was looking.
"Bit young to start growing a beard, aren't you?" Sam commented, sitting cross-legged on the floor. I was sitting on the edge of Theresa's bed at this point whilst Violet played with my hair.
"What?" Luke reached a hand to his mouth and pulled it away. Seeing the chocolate on his fingers, he glared at Jip. "You said it was all gone!"
"Oops." Jip said, giggling and bouncing over to Sam. He patted the space next to him and Jip flopped down next to him. Luke made his way over to Theresa's dressing table and stood in the mirror, trying to wipe all the 'beard' off with the sleeve of his jumper.
Sophia didn't come back for about an hour after that. Violet jumped off the bed, leaving only one side of my hair pinned up, and rushed to meet the disco zafara.
"You took ages!" She scolded. "Sam wouldn't let us open the presents until everyone was here!"
"What presents?" Sophia looked over Violet's shoulder at the pile of boxes. Jip had taken to staring at them fondly in the past hour, almost like he hoped it was convince Sam to let him open them. It didn't, of course. Dylan stood in the corner with Luke and Theresa. He was trying to teach the boy defence techniques that didn't involve a sword, but rather just used your hands. Theresa was providing the 'enemy' for the two, flinging punches left, right and centre. I have to admit, if she were to lose her bow, she can certainly defend herself if the occasion calls for it.
"Right!" Sam said, jumping to his feet. "We're all here!" Jip grinned as Violet let Sophia over to sit with him and Sam on the floor by the presents. I ripped the pins out of my hair and joined them, with the three in the corner wrapping up their practice and heading over too.
Sam handed Luke his parcel first.
"Do I have to open it now?" The boy asked. "Can it wait 'til Christmas?"
"I want to see your expressions!" Sam insisted enthusiastically.
Luke rolled his eyes and started to tear the paper off as silently as possible. Reaching his hand through the rip he'd made at one end of the parcel, he managed to pull his gift out through the hole.
"It's a hat." He said bluntly, dropping the paper in his lap so that he could turn the gift over and over in his hands. "And a pretty boring one at that."
"Hey!" Sam said defensively. "I think you'll find it's a very cool hat!"
"It looks like a bog-standard bowler hat to me."
"That's the idea." Sam insisted. "Put it on; I'll show you."
Luke did so grudgingly. Sam looked around, his eyes settling on the hairbrush Violet had been using to style my hair a few minutes before. Standing up, he lunged across the bed and grabbed it. Once he was sitting back down, hairbrush in hand, he whacked Luke round the head with it.
Jip's jaw dropped.
"See?" Sam said, smacking Luke round the head with the hairbrush again.
"… I don't get it." Violet admitted, snatching her hairbrush off of Sam before he damaged the bristles.
Luke smiled. "I couldn't feel a thing."
"Precisely!" Sam beamed. "It's like a snazzy-looking helmet!"
He pulled a large, rectangular parcel off the pile next and handed it to Sophia. It was quite blatantly a book. She took it from him eagerly and set it down in her lap, tearing the paper off.
"101 Dangerous Neopian Artefacts." She read the title aloud. "Sounds exciting!"
Violet snorted back a bought of laughter, prompting Sophia to elbow her.
Sam's next parcel was Violet's. Once she'd got over complaining about how it was 'smaller than Sophia's' (to which Sam's retort was "It's pocket-sized!"), she ripped the shimmering blue paper off of it.
"It's a comb." She said bluntly. "I have one of those."
She was about to set it down when her finger caught on some sort of bump protruding from the side of the handle. She froze and used her other hand to prod the lump. It did nothing. Glaring at Sam, she started to lower it to the floor again. In the process, her finger nudged the bump.
The comb folded into the handle and a blade popped out the other side, narrowly missing Violet's fingers.
She squealed in surprise and held it up to examine it. Holding it between finger and thumb, she nudged the lump again. The blade slid back into the handle, the comb popping out and sliding into place.
"That." Violet breathed, still studying her gift intently. "Is. Awesome!"
"I thought you'd like it." Sam said, reaching forward and tossing the next parcel- wrapped in blue-and-red striped paper- towards Jip. He caught it, grinning ecstatically, and ripped the paper off quicker than anybody so far.
It was a ball, about the size of his head. Covered in sparkly bits of glitter, it was a sea-green colour and very, very pretty.
Jip went to throw it.
Sam immediately went to catch it, but it shot past his hand, bounced off the headboard on Theresa's bed, hurtled into the closed door, bounced back across the room, reflected off the wall, bounced back across to the opposite wall. The cycle was only stopped when Theresa reached out and caught it, handing the ball to the boy beside her and examining the mess it had made of all the bottles on her dressing table with disdain.
"Wow." Jip breathed.
"I know." Sam said, his voice filled with just as much amazement. Just as he noticed Theresa's glare- which was definitely intended for him- the door opened. Harry strode in like he owned the place, giving me a look that I was certain he meant to remind me of the agreement we made earlier. He sat down behind Theresa, who rolled her eyes at him and turned her attention back to glaring at Sam.
"Look, Resa, it's a cool present!" He tried to defend himself.
"It messed up my room." She hissed.
"Just that corner."
Sam laughed nervously and lunged for a small parcel, holding it out to her. "Here's your present; I hope you like it." You could almost hear him adding silently, in his head, 'and that it gets you off my back'.
She opened it carefully and pulled out a twig with three oval-shaped green leaves running down its length and three small, white berries in a clump near the end.
"What the heck is this?" She asked, holding it up to the light to study it more closely. "It just looks like some sort of dead twig."
"I know what that's for." Harry said smugly behind her. He started to edge towards her, but Sam took Luke's hat from his head and hurled it at the guard. "Ow!"
Luke snatched his hat back from where it had landed on the floor protectively; it had certainly grown on him in the last ten or so minutes.
"I'll show you later." Sam promised Theresa, lowering her hand back down into her lap so that she was no longer holding the twig above her head. "It's a special Christmas thing." He shot a glare at Harry, which was met with a teasing smirk.
My gift came next. It wasn't a very big parcel, but it was surprisingly heavy. Setting it down in my lap, I peeled back the candy-cane-print paper and lifted up the gift.
It was a purple cloak, rolled up so it would use less wrapping paper. I recognised it quickly.
"Isn't this Masila's?" I asked.
"Was." Sam corrected. "It was Auntie Masila's."
"What do you mean 'was'?"
"She doesn't exactly need it in prison." Sam explained. "I asked if I could take it for you, she said yes."
"Of course, those weren't his exact words." Theresa added. "I seem to remember something about cookies?" She looked pointedly at Sam, who's gaze seemed to suddenly become drawn to his knee.
"Well, it worked, didn't it?" He mumbled.
I studied the cloak once again. It was going to be big on me; it reached Masila's ankles, didn't it? And she was taller than I am.
Sophia prodded my shoulder and showed me a picture in her new book.
"Masila's cloak is an artefact?" I asked, bewildered.
"Apparently." Sophia confirmed, pointing at the text beneath the picture. "It says here that it makes the wearer inconspicuous."
"Like invisible?" I questioned, unsure.
"No." She shook her head. "People can still see you, you just don't register as a threat and so they tend to leave you alone. It says here that it doesn't work on all people, but definitely on most."
"0.1% of the Neopian population are immune to it." Sam cut in. "So Auntie said, at any rate. She never told me how she worked that out."
"It also says that if you're shouting, or drawing attention to yourself undisputably, then it won't work." Sophia continued.
"So this thing working on Hannah is out then." Theresa concluded, no doubt remembering how the usul was practically an attention magnet.
"It's also very warm." Sam informed me. "And great for hide-and-seek."
Last, but not least, was Dylan. He took his parcel and opened it carefully, pulling out three balls of wool- one lavender, one pale yellow, and one an eye-watering shade of green- and a pair of long knitting needles.
"You've got to be kidding me." He said flatly.
"Nope." Sam said, grinning brightly. "I figured 'what better a time to learn knitting than the middle of winter'! My mum said she'll teach you, if need be."
"I can teach myself, thanks." Dylan studied the needle in his hand, confused. "I think."
Mum is amazed with the cloak. I doubt she's had anything so expensive-looking in her house for a while. She's hung it up on a hook by the door, so that anybody who enters can't help but catch sight of it. Not that many people have entered.
I was panicking whilst waiting for Mum to show up at the base to take me home yesterday morning; getting her a present had completely slipped my mind, and I felt so guilty! The others were rushing about, packing their own things. Even Violet; she's decided that, if it comes down to it, she can visit her cousins and 'borrow Ivy's room'. I'd bet Ivy would just love that.
Dylan was the one, in the end, to notice me and ask what the matter was. I explained my problem, and he reached into his suitcase, pulling out a lavender-and-yellow striped scarf and tossing it towards me. I caught it with both hands.
"I taught myself to knit after all." He explained to me. "Feel free to give that to her; I have three more in here. Soon, I'm going to have more scarves than I know what to do with!"
"Why don't you try making a hat or a pair of gloves to match?" I suggested.
"That looks complicated." He admitted. "I'll ask my grandma about it; I'm staying with her for Christmas."
Mum was delighted with her scarf. When I told her about Dylan learning to knit, and having more scarves than he has room for soon, she laughed and said to thank him for her when I get the chance.
We'd just finished eating our dinner when someone knocked at the door. I'd warned Mum that I was expecting someone to come pick me up, though I'd managed to avoid the questions of 'who?' by steering her towards the idea that it as a friend, just a friend, looking for someone to go on a Christmassy walk with.
I slipped my boots on, grabbed my cloak, and flung the door open. Little Cerise stood there, wearing a coat that was buttoned up to her nose. From the folded arms and the anger in her eyes, she wasn't happy about it. Behind her stood Hawk, wearing a jumper that was clearly miles too big.
"Christmas present." He grumbled.
"I'll be back later, Mum!" I shouted, stepping out into the street and pulling the door shut behind me.
I handed the cloak to Hawk, explaining everything Sam and Sophia had told me about it making the wearer 'inconspicuous'.
"That's great!" He said. "Amazing timing, too."
He yanked his jumper off, and I couldn't escape the feeling that he was glad to let it go, even if only temporarily. As he set the cloak in his shoulders and fiddled with the clasp, I pulled his big green jumper on. It was very warm.
"Harry's taken the others there already." Cerise explained as the three of us walked towards the base. "I've been lying in bed with 'a terrible cold' all day, and so they left without me. Then I just had to tell Mother I felt better, pretend I was going straight to meet the others, knock on Hawk's door and pretend I'd lost my football. His father went to search for it, Hawk saw me and came out. We ran off to meet you."
"What's with the coat?" I asked.
She scowled and kicked a heap of snow bitterly. "Mother thinks I have a cold still. She wouldn't let me go unless I put this stupid thing on."
"Well," Hawk said, smirking. "I think you look adorable."
She growled at him, which just made him laugh.
Mario wasn't on dungeon-duty. Instead, it was a purple cybunny I vaguely recognised through seeing in the corridors. She saw me and smiled.
"Can I help you, miss?" She asked politely.
"Um, excuse me," Cerise said sweetly, her voice muffled by her coat. Considering it had been loud and clear on the journey there, I was pretty sure she was just turning the coat to her advantage here. "I want to see my big sister. I broughted her friends, 'cos they miss her too."
You could tell the cybunny's heart was melting, right there. "Go ahead, dear." She stepped to the side. "Don't let me stop you."
"Thank you." Cerise said, bounding down the stairs.
Ivy had a neat little crowd before we even reached her. Harry was leaning with his back against the bars. Ebony stood a little way away from them, ignoring the glares his oldest baby sister was sending him. I have to give it to him; he's very good at deflecting them. I know from experience how hard Violet's glares can be to avoid if she's really angry. Harley stood with Ebony, and the two were talking about something I couldn't catch. Hazel was hovering about beside Violet, seemingly not quite sure where she should be. The only one missing was Azure.
Ivy ceased whatever she was saying to Violet and Hazel the moment she spotted the three of us approaching.
"Hawk?" She practically whispered, disbelief evident on her face. "Is that you?"
"No." He said, grinning. "It's the muffin man. Of course it's me!"
He ran to the bars and she hugged him as best she could through them, pulling away only when Ebony made a loud, pointed, coughing sound.
"How did you get in?" Ivy gushed, hastily adding, "Not that it's a bad thing."
"Yes." Harley agreed, though his tone was nowhere near as inviting as his sister's. "How did you get in?"
"She did it!" Hawk said quickly, pointing at Cerise in an attempt to drop all the blame on her. She rolled her eyes.
"That's it." She said sarcastically. "Blame me. I just formulated a plan to get you to your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend!" Hawk snapped defensively. "I swear we have this discussion every time I see you guys now!"
"We do." Ivy confirmed.
"And it sucks!" Hawk concluded. He held a hand out which she enthusiastically high-fived through the gap. It was almost like watching two halves of a whole, one person; they acted together so well it was like clockwork.
"Harry," Cerise said in a voice far too grown-up for someone of her age. "Thank you for asking Brynn if she could escort us to the dungeons. I'm pretty sure we would've got lost otherwise."
"You're welcome." Harry replied.
"Wait," Violet cut in. "You knew about this?"
"Yep." He replied bluntly.
"Do you remember what he did to Pippin?"
"And you still let him visit Ivy?!"
Harry straightened his back and looked Violet pointedly in the eye. "It's Christmas, Miss Flamy-knickers. Lighten up."
She glared at him and, for a moment, I thought she might slap him. But she didn't, merely looked over at me and smiled.
"Brynn! Hello!" She threw herself at me, hugging me tightly. It took a moment for me to register what was happening, and then I was hugging her back. "Hawk's wearing your cloak." She noticed.
"We figured it would help us get in." I replied. "Though it didn't work on you guys."
"Ivy's going to recognise Hawk no matter what you do to him." Cerise explained. "And she shouted his name, so the others all knew he was coming."
"How do you know all that?" I asked, finally wrenching myself free of Violet's grasp.
"Regan told me." She replied matter-of-factly.
"And how does Regan know?" I pressed.
"She probably read it in a book." Cerise said dismissively.
Violet stuck with me as the others continued their usual banter, and I was thankful for it. I'm not at all used to it, and she's been away from it all for a while, so she wasn't quite so at home as she might've been before.
"You," Ebony said eventually, pointing at Ivy. "Still owe me a birthday present."
"Well, dear," She drew out 'dear', somehow twisting it into a childish nickname as opposed to a term of endearment. "When I get my workshop back, I'll make you a present. In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little tied up here."
"I doubt Pippin's going to let you have a workshop." Harry pointed out.
Her voice came out low, challenging even, as she came out with her retort; "No workshop, no marriage."
"You don't exactly have a say in that." Harley pointed out.
She glared at him. "If I don't get a workshop, then he had better be up for some tantrums."
Hawk laughed. "I would give anything to see that!"
"So would I, actually." Violet agreed. "You know, he told me that he was planning to 'knock the tinkering out of' you."
"Did he now?" Ivy raised an eyebrow. "Fyora, why him?"
"It could be worse." Ebony reasoned.
"How could it possibly be worse?" Ivy complained. "If you guys don't like me seeing Hawk, then Pippin will loathe it. I can actually see him putting death-traps up in the front garden to prevent us from seeing each-other."
"You could be betrothed to Harry." Ebony quipped. Ivy, Hawk and Violet broke down into fits of laughter, the latter even having to rest her head on my shoulder so that she didn't fall over.
"Just be thankful I don't have Vortigern with me, Adonai." Harry warned.
As Violet recovered from her giggle-fit, Harley scanned the group. "You know," He said. "I think this is the first time in ages that we've all been together. Harry and Violet have their Guard business, Ivy's been in jail, Hawk's been banished. The only one missing is…"
He was cut off by a sharp look from Ebony.
"Yeah, were is Em?" Ivy asked. "I meant to ask earlier."
"She's not coming." Violet's brother muttered. "Don't expect any visits from her anytime soon, either."
"What did you do?" Ivy asked accusingly.
"Why is it suddenly my fault?" Ebony snapped.
It didn't help his case at all when Cerise began to sing "Ebony upset Emmy, Ebony upset Emmy."
"If you don't shut up, I am going to kick you." Ebony warned her through gritted teeth.
"Hey." Ivy folded her arms. "If you so much as lay a finger on my baby sister, I will rip through these bars and kick you."
"Oh yeah?" He teased. "And how are you going to manage that?"
Ivy stopped, stumped. However, before Ebony could gloat about winning their little argument, Hawk cut in. He waved his hands about mystically. "Magic."
Ebony rolled his eyes and looked to Harry for support. Harry gave him a smirk that said 'you're on your own, mate'.
Eventually, the purple cybunny came down and told us we had to leave because it was getting late. There are rules in place to prevent visitors from staying after ten pm, as the cover of darkness combined with the tired guards on duty means it would be easier for one 'extra visitor' to slip by unnoticed.
We trudged through the slushy snow. I broke off from the group first, as I don't live in the same neighbourhood at all. Violet made sure I didn't leave without first receiving another death-hug, and Harry, Cerise and Hawk each thanked me for helping sneak the latter in to see Ivy.
Oh, and Hawk and I swapped the cloak and jumper back round again. Of course.
Mum wasn't all too pleased that I got home so late. She kept shaking her head and rattling on about how she was worried crazy.
"I'm alright, Mum." I kept insisting. "I was with friends the whole time." I can count Violet as a friend, I'm certain. And Hawk, despite what they say, seems like a friendly guy.
In the end I just gave her a hug, feigned a yawn, and slipped off to bed.
Just as a warning, the next update might be a while off. I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I probably won't have much time to do BD throughout November. But I promise I'll update as soon as I can, okay?