As usual, she sat alone in the darkness. She sat there with her legs crossed, her jet black hair merging with the inky air. Her long-lashed eyes looked about, their silvery-gray color almost illuminating the dark like two full moons, and her delicate fingers drew random shapes in the dust that coated the shelf. They called her Jennifer, and some might say that she was pretty…for a rock. No one ever took notice of her kind, always sitting in hallways or decorating the outdoor gardens. They were commonplace, used to not being noticed. But Jennifer was different from other rocks, she wanted to be noticed; noticed by someone very special to her.
The only problem was…he never did.
The soft light of a lantern slowly dispersed the darkness as the sounds of voices drew closer. Jennifer looked up and smiled brightly, revealing her teeth to be an ever-so-slight shade of grey. She knew those voices, and one made her tingle with glee: Pewdie, the love of her life. Some might call it strange for a rock to fall in love with a human, including Jennifer's rock brethren, who had abandoned her when they learned of her love for the man.
Regardless, Jennifer refused to recall her feelings for Pewdie. She remembered the very first time they met; he had picked her up mid-flight from some nightmarish monster, she had looked into his magnificent blue eyes, he had smiled awkwardly at her, and he had chucked her at the monster with all his might. But the damage had been done. As she had sat there on the creature, restraining it with her body weight (which, as a rock, was heavy regardless of her thin frame), she had daydreamed of the handsome young man who had literally swept her off her feet.
Jennifer sat up straight and tossed her hair over her shoulder just as Pewdie and Stephano entered the storage room. Needless to say, the two needed no introduction.
"See anything, Stephano?" Pewdie asked the golden Arabian at his side.
"Nothing," Stephano sighed. "Except for some crates, Tinderboxes, and…"
"BARRELS!" Pewdie shrieked in outrage and shoved Stephano out of the way to commence tossing the Barrels about the room, shouting gibberish at the top of his voice.
Jennifer giggled. He was so cute with his little antics. She just wanted to run up and hug him right there, but she had never been one to start a conversation. No, he would have to say hello first, like always. After disposing of the Barrels Pewdie stood there with his lantern, panting heavily and breaking a sweat. Stephano put a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I think you got 'em, Pewds." Stephano said sarcastically.
"Yep." Pewdie said holding his lantern up again. He let out an annoyed grumble. "Gah! There's nothing in here!"
"Just keep looking." Stephano said, searching a nearby shelf.
The two continued to ransack the room in search of some sort of helpful object, but came up empty. Pewdie, almost ready to give up, finally traveled to the corner where Jennifer's shelf sat. Jennifer held her breath as the lantern passed in front of her eyes.
"Anything?" Stephano asked from across the room.
"Give me a sec." Pewdie responded.
Pewdie raided the shelves above and below Jennifer; finding only Sanity Potion and a Tinderbox. Finally, he took interest in the shelf where she was sitting. Jennifer's heart pounded; flushing her cheeks a light pink as the young man began pulling books and other items off her shelf. She stared at Pewdie, silently begging him to look at her, but he didn't seem to notice her desperate gaze.
Pewdie's hand traveled closer to her, feeling around for items in the lantern light. Jennifer's hand moved, eager to touch his hand as it came closer. Just as she made the move, though, she lost her nerve and instead pushed the tiny key sitting next to her a bit closer to Pewdie. Pewdie felt the cold metal and snatched the key up.
"Got it!" Pewdie cried as he rejoined Stephano. "See, Stephano? I told you it had to be in this room!"
"Whatever, Pewds." Stephano sighed, motioning towards the door. "We have the key, now let's just go."
Jennifer watched as the lantern light grew dimmer and dimmer until it was eaten up by the darkness. As usual, she was left sitting in the dark. Alone…again. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her head there, letting out a long sigh.
"What's got you all worked up?" A voice rang out from the darkness.
Jennifer looked up with a start, looking towards the doorway where the voice had come from. Upon seeing the figure leaning against the threshold, Jennifer smiled. The owner of this voice was familiar.
"Piggeh, is that you?" Jennifer squinted to see through the thick shadows.
"Who else could it be?" The undead young man chuckled as he posed a little. "What's the matter? You look upset."
"I'm fine." Jennifer put her head down. "Nothing's the matter."
"'C'mon, Jen." Piggeh said as he slid his backside against the wall towards the shelf. "Don't lie to me. I know you're not lying to me. C'mon now, Jen. Don't lie."
Piggeh stopped his odd sliding on the wall across from Jennifer's shelf. Jennifer looked down at him from where she sat on the high shelf. Piggeh put his hands on his hips and smirked knowingly at the rock girl.
"C'mon." He winked one of his playful pink eyes at her; the eye that wasn't on the half-rotten side of his face.
"Leave me alone, Piggeh." Jennifer folded her arms around her resting head.
Truth was Piggeh didn't need Jennifer to tell him what was upsetting her. He already knew. Piggeh was Jennifer's closest friend…in fact…he was her only friend. He had come to think of her as the little sister he never had, as Jennifer was younger than him by a couple episodes. They often sat talking to each other in rooms of the castle that Pewdie would eventually explore. They usually hung out either in the same room or in rooms close together, so that they were always within reach of each other. Piggeh was well aware of her feelings toward Pewdie, and of her rock brethren disowning her because of it. He knew everything that went on in Jennifer's life, so it stung him whenever Pewdie would talk to him and completely ignore Jennifer; or when Pewdie insulted Jennifer and flung her across the room.
Jennifer had also come to think of Piggeh as family, as the supportive big brother she so desperately needed. She often would seek comfort in the pink-haired man, snuggling up to him and clinging to his arm whenever her memories came back to haunt her. Many thought of Piggeh as a creepy, sex-crazed maniac; but not Jennifer. Jennifer, as a rock, was very good at watching. She could tell a lot about a person just by watching the way they moved and acted, and she knew more about her fellow bro then he knew about himself. From what she knew, he was just "overly affectionate".
"Wasn't that Pewdie who was just in here?" Piggeh inquired. "Did you say hello?"
"Mm-mm." Jennifer mumbled as she shook her head, lifting her face out of her arms.
"Why not?" Piggeh teased. "He's your Bro, right?"
"Right," Jennifer turned away. "But I wish he'd act like it! He…he didn't even notice me! I was right in front of him and he didn't notice me!"
Piggeh crossed his arms and reclined against the wall, smirking up at Jennifer.
"Are you sure it's Pewdie's fault?" He asked.
"What do you mean?"
"No offence, Jen, but you are a bit of a recluse." Piggeh shrugged. "You're shy."
Jennifer raised an eyebrow at her friend. He returned the look.
"Why don't you jump down here so we can talk?" Piggeh asked as he motioned with his head. Jennifer leaned forward a bit and realized just how high up she was, almost on the top shelf. Being a little jittery around heights, Jennifer looked at Piggeh and shook her head. Chuckling to himself, Piggeh uncrossed his arms and walked up to Jennifer's shelf. He held his arms up over his head.
"Jump down, Jen. I promise I'll catch you." Piggeh winked, a gesture that was both reassuring…and unsettling to Jennifer.
Jennifer was reluctant, but she trusted her friend more than her own instincts, so she closed her eyes and pushed herself off her perch. She let out a small shriek before landing safely in her friend's arms. Piggeh gave her an 'I-told-you-so' smile and lowered her to her feet.
"There, now we can…'talk', if you know what I mean." Piggeh joked, causing Jennifer to roll her eyes.
"What do you want to talk to me about?" Jennifer asked as she dusted off her black blouse.
"Your problem is what I want to talk about." Piggeh said. "I think I can help."
"You mean my shyness?" Jennifer hugged herself. "It's not a problem, Piggeh. It's just…well…it's just the way I am. I'm uncomfortable around people."
"But you're comfortable around me, aren't 'ya?" Piggeh asked, suddenly seizing Jennifer around the waist and hugging her so close that their noses touched.
"Yes," Jennifer said as she casually escaped Piggeh's overzealous embrace, not in the mood for his playfulness. "But it's different with Pewdie. Every time I see him I get all numb and I lose my ability to speak! I've been following him, watching him embark on his adventures, and not once has he ever noticed me! Sure, he noticed me a few times when I was with you, but you heard what he told me…so I took his advice and started dieting. See?" Jennifer turned around, molding her "slimmer" body for Piggeh. The reality was Jennifer's thin figure hadn't changed at all, but Piggeh didn't say anything. "I try and I try, but no matter what I do he never notices me!"
"No one ever notices the rocks, Jennifer." Piggeh said. "They're there to take up space, so no one is supposed to notice them." Piggeh jumped at the sudden look of distain Jennifer shot him. "Let me finish! What I'm getting at is that you're not like most rocks, and you just have to let Pewdie realize it!"
Jennifer blushed at the thought. "How do I do that?"
"Be more outgoing, girl!" Piggeh posed in a rather feminine way, making Jennifer giggle. "Like me!"
Jennifer copied Piggeh's pose. It looked much less odd when she did it.
"Hey, that's my thing!" Piggeh teased. "Don't you be stealin' it! No, I mean…you know…express yourself!"
"Just tell Pewdie how you really feel about him. That will get him to notice you."
"But I've already told him…"
"I mean more than a measly 'I love you'."
"Then…what else should I say?"
"It's not what you say…it's what you do." Piggeh said. "You've seen me flirt with some of the things around here, haven't you? That's all there really is to it." He ran his finger down Jennifer's arm, demonstrating his point.
Jennifer looked at the floor and nodded. "I see."
"So you wanna try it?"
"Being expressive. I saw Pewdie and Stephano go through that door across the hall. If we hurry we might still catch 'em."
"Oh." Jennifer sighed with relief. Then she felt Piggeh take her by the hand and start leading her away. "Wait! You mean now?!" Jennifer dug her heels into the ground. "No, no, no I can't!"
"It's easy once you get started, Jen." Piggeh said as he dragged Jennifer out of the room and across the hallway. "It's like making out. Starts out slow, but then you really get into it until-."
"Thank you, Piggeh. I get the picture." Jennifer said as she tried to wrestle her hand out of Piggeh's clammy grasp.
Piggeh bumped the door open with his hip, revealing a moldy old staircase leading up out of the basement. Keeping a good grip on Jennifer, he began hauling her up the stairs despite her protest. The stairs seemed to spiral up into dark infinity as Piggeh and the reluctant rock inched onward. Finally, just as the last few steps were in sight, the two familiar voices of Pewdie and Stephano began echoing from the corridor.
"They're just up ahead, Jen. C'mon!" Piggeh yanked on Jennifer's arm. Jennifer, who was still trying in vain to escape back down the stairs, lurched in the direction Piggeh pulled her.
"Piggeh, please don't-."
"It'll be fine, just go on!"
Before Jennifer could say another word, Piggeh slung her around by her arm and sling-shot her out of the staircase and down the short corridor it led to. The laws of motion causing her to flail and stumble, Jennifer had no time to stop herself before she collided with a certain blonde and his golden friend, knocking them both over like abnormal bowling pins.
"Jesus Christ, what was that?" Stephano collected himself as he and Pewdie pulled themselves off the floor.
"Teleporting Naked Guy, maybe?" Pewdie's lantern had gone out when it fell, and he was tinkering with the wick to get it to light again. "Maybe it means that we're close to-."
Just as the lantern began to flicker to life, Pewdie's shoulder brushed against something (or someone) that was certainly not a Teleporting Naked Guy. The lantern light intensified until the shadows were pulled back and the cause of the accident was revealed to the adventurers.
"Jennifer?" The duo exclaimed in unison. The rock girl flushed red and bent her fingers in a tiny wave.
"H-Hi, Pewdie." She squeaked out.
"What are you doing here, rock?" Stephano heaved out a heavy sigh of annoyance. "We're in the middle of something very important here!"
"I-I know." Jennifer stuttered. She kept her eyes on her fingertips as they nervously twirled her hair. "I just...well, I…I just wanted to tell Pewdie…that…"
Jennifer glanced over her shoulder at Piggeh, still hidden in the stairway. Jennifer bit her lip anxiously, sending out an S.O.S to her friend. Piggeh motioned for Jennifer to go on, giving her a confident thumbs-up. Jennifer turned back to Pewdie and stopped fiddling with her hair.
"I…wanted to tell Pewdie…"
"I know, Jennifer, I know." Pewdie rolled his eyes and shook his head in pity. "You've said it over and over again, I think I get the-."
Pewdie never got to finish his sentence. The chapped lips of the rock girl, clasped tightly over his own, kept him from speaking. Stephano stood frozen in place, staring in complete and utter shock at what he was witnessing. Piggeh quietly celebrated in the stairway, applauding his friend from the sidelines. Pewdie didn't move, the astonishment of what was happening leaving him paralyzed; and Jennifer, eyes closed and hands placed delicately around Pewdie's face, leaned further into her first kiss. After a few short seconds of silence, Jennifer pulled her lips away from Pewdie's and took her hands away from his face. The soundlessness continued for but a second longer, before it was disturbed by the sound of Jennifer's bubbling laughter.
Jennifer hadn't heard herself laugh in so long, she actually feared she had forgotten how to; but she had finally done it. Without so much as uttering a single timid word, she had told Pewdie exactly how she truly felt about him. She had become, as Piggeh called it, expressive! Giddy laughter billowed out of Jennifer, making the corridor ring with echoes; but the echoes were abruptly cut off by a high-pitched yip.
Jennifer stumbled back, her head spinning and dizzy. She braced herself against the wall for support, breathing heavily and reeling from the physical shock. The echoes, the phantom remains of her laughter, evaporated into silence. Jennifer slowly raised a hand to her left cheek, which was flushing red and stinging in the shape of a handprint. Pewdie wiped off his lips with his sleeve in disgust.
"The heck is wrong with you, Jennifer?!" Pewdie asked as he wiped his mouth. "That was disgusting!"
"You okay, Pewds?" Stephano asked.
"No, I'm not!" Pewdie marched up to Jennifer and grabbed a fistful of her hair. He jerked her away from the wall by her hair and forced her to look him in the eye. "She knows good and well that I have a girlfriend! What would Marzia say if she found out I kissed another woman?!" He angrily yanked on Jennifer's hair, making her yelp.
"Alright, Pewdie, that's enough!" Piggeh came running from the stairway and grabbed Pewdie's arm. "Ease up, will 'ya? It wasn't her fault, alright? I'm the one who told her to do it!"
"I might've known this had something to do with you, Piggeh!" Pewdie snarled. The others were nervous; they had never seen their Bro so angry.
"C'mon, man, this isn't the Pewdie I know." Piggeh said as he tried to pry Pewdie's hand off of Jennifer's hair. "It was all me, just let her go and this will all blow over. Maybe we could, you know, catch a movie later on or something? As bros!"
Pewdie flung Jennifer to the ground, and gave her hair another savage yank. "I don't think so." He said flatly. "My God, Jennifer. I knew you were desperate, but you just crossed the line!"
Jennifer's eyes began to well up. "I'm sorry, Pewdie! I'm sorry! Just stop it! Please!"
Her pleas fell on deaf ears. Pewdie hoisted Jennifer up and started throwing her repeatedly against the wall. Piggeh immediately jumped on Pewdie and tried to pull him off of her, but Pewds was so blinded by rage that it didn't phase him. Piggeh turned to Stephano for help, but Stephano shook his head. "She deserves it." He said coldly. Piggeh was at last able to rip Pewdie away from Jennifer. Pewdie stood there with his lantern, panting and grasping a clump of Jennifer's hair in his hand. Jennifer slumped to the ground, trembling with fear and resting her head on her knees.
"From now on," Pewdie said in between breaths. "Don't look at me…don't talk to me…and don't even touch me. I don't…wanna see you again…for as long…as I live!"
Stephano walked over and put a supportive arm around his best friend's shoulders. "Come on, Pewds." He said. "Let's go. She won't be bothering you again for a very long time." He shot Jennifer a hateful glare as he and Pewdie walked down the endless corridor and out of sight.
Piggeh looked sadly at Jennifer sitting huddled in a ball on the floor, trembling like a rabbit. The experience had left even Piggeh badly shaken. He had never seen Pewdie act like that…never. He had seen him throw Jennifer around before, but that was all in harmless fun. He had never seen him just…attack her like that. He had never seen Pewdie try to do Jennifer, or anyone, serious harm like that.
"Jen," Piggeh asked his friend as they sat and stood in the shadows of the corridor. "You alright?"
Jennifer didn't answer. Once Piggeh's eyes adjusted to the dark better, he could see the tears quietly gliding down Jennifer's cheeks. He could even see the red handprint still etched into her skin. Pewdie had dealt her quite a beating. He had thrown her against the wall so many times that her face and arms were badly bruised, and he had pulled on her hair so hard that tiny ribbons of blood ran down the back of her neck.
"Jen? Jennifer?" Piggeh provoked again.
Jennifer covered her face with her hands and began to sob. Her shoulders lurched as she wept deeply and her breathing became uneven. Piggeh gingerly touched her shoulder but she shoved away his hand, sprang to her feet, and tore away down the corridor. Piggeh felt the dense brick of guilt hit him right in the chest. This was all his doing, and he had to make things right with the one he saw as family. Piggeh zigzagged through the hallways of the castle, checking each room he came across one-by-one. He quietly called Jennifer's name, careful not to alert any creatures that might've been lurking nearby. Nearly half an hour past and still Piggeh found no evidence of his friend. Finally, in the residential wing of the castle, Piggeh came to a hallway that had a crack of light shining out from under one of its doors.
Piggeh timidly approached the door and pressed his ear against the wooden frame. The muffled sound of weeping could be heard from inside. Piggeh knocked on the door and waited for a response.
"Go away!" The familiar voice came from inside.
"It's Piggeh, Jen." Piggeh said through the door. "Can I come in?
"I said go away!"
"Jen, I need to talk to you. Can you open the door?"
"Open it yourself…it's unlocked."
Piggeh carefully turned the doorknob and creaked open the door. The door guarded a small bedroom containing nothing more than the typical bed, dresser, closet, a few paintings, and a mantle. Jennifer sat on the edge of the bed, sniffling and wiping her eyes. Piggeh entered the room and leaned backwards to shut the door behind him. Jennifer glanced up from where she sat. The firelight from the mantle reflected off the tearstains on her bruised face. Piggeh crossed the room to the closet, where he retrieved a freshly cleaned white towel, and joined Jennifer on the bed.
Piggeh tenderly dabbed the blood from the back of Jennifer's neck. She cringed a bit, her shoulders still sore from the ordeal. After cleaning her up, Piggeh tossed the towel in the fire. The two of them watched the blood spots on the towel singe to black and then dissipate as the fibers of the towel faded into ash. As they watched, Piggeh gently touched Jennifer's hand. Jennifer withdrew her hand and repositioned it on her lap. It was obvious she was still upset. Piggeh eyed the bruises on her face.
"You feelin' any better?" He inquired about the rock girl's injuries.
Jennifer looked down at her bruised arms. "They still hurt." She said.
"You wanna talk about it?" Piggeh asked.
Jennifer looked away. "No."
Piggeh reached out and lightly placed his hand on Jennifer's wounded shoulder, careful not to hurt her. Jennifer's shoulders heaved as she sniffled subtly. She warily raised a hand to her shoulder, resting it on top of Piggeh's hand.
"I should've known." Her voice shivered as she spoke. "I should've known…that he would do this. What was I thinking?" Her voice wavered, drowning in her unshed tears. "I should just accept it, Piggeh. He's never going to love me."
Piggeh opened his mouth, ready to reassure Jennifer that it only seemed that way because Pewdie was too involved in the game to notice her like he always did, but he realized that argument had suddenly become invalid. For once Piggeh was unable to offer any comforting words to Jennifer, and it troubled him. Piggeh's silence not doing much to encourage her, Jennifer whimpered as she let a few tears escape her silver eyes.
"I didn't know he had a girlfriend. I swear I didn't!" Jennifer whimpered pitifully. "But I probably should've guessed that too. He has a life outside the game; it makes sense that he would have a girlfriend. I'm such an idiot! Stephano was right. I deserved it."
"I don't ever want to hear you say that again, Jen!" Piggeh said. Piggeh was not a very serious person, but the somewhat playful tone in his voice had completely vanished. "You did nothing wrong! Pewdie shouldn't have hurt you like he did; he was the one in the wrong! All you did was show someone how much you love them and if that's a crime, I should be given a life sentence!"
"It doesn't matter anymore." Jennifer was beginning to sob. "I screwed up and now I've lost everything! My brethren don't want anything to do with me, and now neither does Pewdie!" Jennifer wept. "He-He told me that he never wants to see me again! If that's what will make him happy, then I might as well just give him what he wants. I want to make him happy because…because…I still love him!"
With that Jennifer covered her face with her hands and began to sob profusely, wailing with such soul-wrenching agony that it was possible to believe that her very essence had been wounded. Piggeh, still unable to offer a word of comfort, scooted closer to his friend and threw him arms around her. It was the only form of consolation he could offer her. Rather than resist the embrace, Jennifer returned it. Wrapping her arms around Piggeh's chest, she cuddled into his torn clothing and bawled.
"It's okay, Jen." Piggeh said, squeezing Jennifer tighter. "It's okay. I'm here. I'm right here."
They stayed like that for a while; just the two of them together. As Jennifer wetted his clothing with her tears Piggeh stayed quiet thinking of something, anything, he could say that would bring comfort to his grieving friend. Despite being the king of smooth talk, at first the words eluded him; but finally he knew exactly what to say.
"Hey, Jen, look at me." Piggeh tilted Jennifer's chin up. Jennifer sniffled and blinked a few tears out of her eyes. Piggeh leaned closer to Jennifer, looking her square in the eye with a soft smile on his lips. "You're a great girl. You're not like any rock I've ever met, and for good reason. You're good-looking, smart, cheerful, and best of all, you put up with me!" A glimpse of a smile crossed Jennifer's lips, then was gone. Piggeh continued: "You haven't lost everything, Jen, 'cause guess what? You still have me. No matter what happens, you still have me. Don't listen to anything anyone says, because I think you're wonderful. Understand? You are a wonderful person, so don't let anyone tell you you're not." Piggeh leaned even closer to Jennifer, touching their noses together. "I love you, Jen."
Piggeh closed his eyes and planted a kiss on Jennifer's forehead, cradling her just as a big brother would his little sister during a thunderstorm. Jennifer gazed up at Piggeh in astonishment. She blinked out a few stranded tears, then smiled up at her big bro. Piggeh, in return, smiled back down at her. With a smile on her face, Jennifer almost seemed to glow in the flickering firelight.
However, this did not last long. Abruptly Jennifer's smile disappeared from her face and the color, what little there was, drained from her cheeks. Piggeh abandoned his smile as well, replacing it with a concerned look as Jennifer's gaze became distant.
Suddenly Jennifer's body tensed and began to tremble all over as if she were cold. Her fingers spiked up and her hands began to spasm. The spasm seemed to ripple in a wave through her body and soon Jennifer's whole body was twitching uncontrollably.
"Jen? Jen!" Piggeh cried as he tried to keep hold of his friend as she jolted in his arms. "What's wrong?"
Jennifer didn't seem to hear him. Her eyes were still staring far-off into the distance. Jennifer's body began to twitch more violently until Piggeh could no longer hang onto her. She tumbled off the bed and rolled onto her back on the carpet, arching her back and cracking the back of her head against the floor as the spasms grew worse. Piggeh began to panic as he sat and watched his friend convulse on the floor in front of him.
"Jennifer, what's wrong?!" Piggeh cried out.
Scrambling to think of what he should do, Piggeh reached for the pillow on the bed in the hopes that it would stop Jennifer from hitting her head against the floor. As Piggeh removed the feather-stuffed cushion from its designated place, he gasped as he discovered what had been hidden underneath the pillow. Laudanum bottles. Five laudanum bottles. Piggeh examined each of them; they were all empty. The horrifying realization crashed over Piggeh like a wave.
"Oh my God, Jen." He whispered as he stared at the empty vials of medicine.
Piggeh tossed the pillow aside and immediately dropped to his knees beside Jennifer. Jennifer was in bad shape. Her convulsions were causing her to slam her head harder into the ground and a white foam was beginning to form around her mouth. She made small gasping noises as she jolted about, as if it was getting harder for her to breathe. Piggeh tried to cradle her head in his hands to keep her from hurting herself, but it didn't help much. Piggeh was in a complete frenzy.
"Help!" He screamed at the top of his voice. "Someone! Anyone! Please, help us! Jennifer's in trouble! Help, please!"
There was no response from the hallway. No one could hear him scream, but he couldn't leave Jennifer to run for help. They were alone. Piggeh had never felt so helpless in his life. All he could do was try to keep her as comfortable as possible. Piggeh continued to cradle Jennifer's head in his hands, riding the waves of convulsions with her. Piggeh felt tears start to sting his eyes, but he fought them away. No, he wouldn't cry. He would be strong for Jennifer. She'd never seen him cry before and she wouldn't see him cry now. Piggeh suddenly found this task very hard to carry out when he noticed Jennifer was beginning to convulse much weaker now, and her eyes were beginning to darken. Piggeh felt the tears brim in his eyes and overflow down his cheeks.
"Jen, can you hear me?" Piggeh struggled to stabilize his voice. "You can't go yet, okay? You're still young; you haven't even gotten a chance to live yet!" Piggeh choked on his tears. "I'm sorry! This wasn't supposed to happen! None of this would've happened if it weren't for me! I never should've put those stupid ideas in your head! I'm so sorry!"
The convulsions had weakened to the point that Jennifer was no longer hitting her head on the floor, but Piggeh kept cradling it anyway. He brushed some of Jennifer's hair out of her face, and all of a sudden Jennifer seemed to notice him. Her distant gaze came back to the room and focused instead on Piggeh, who was protectively hovering over her. Piggeh noticed this sudden change and smiled despite the tears running down his face. He pulled his shirt sleeve over his hand and gently wiped the foam around her mouth away.
"It's alright, Jen." Piggeh said with a smile that was more for Jennifer than for himself. "I told you, no matter what happens, you'll always have me; I'm not going anywhere. But you gotta stay with me, Jen! Stay with me!"
It was unclear whether Jennifer heard him or not, because she didn't respond. Her eyes just remained locked on Piggeh, never shifting, as her body tremors continued to lessen. Piggeh could feel her slipping away through his fingers, just like sand.
"Stay with me, Jen!" Piggeh pleaded. He looked directly down on Jennifer's face, so his tears fell from his eyes directly onto her cheeks like rain. "Please…."
Piggeh watched helplessly as the rock girl's sparkling silver eyes became as lifeless as a doll's. Just as abruptly as it had tensed, Jennifer's body went limp there on the carpet in front of the mantle. The air was still, except for the soft crackling of the firewood. Piggeh felt a growing knot form in his stomach as he stared into the lightless void of Jennifer's eyes.
Nothing. Not a breath, not a sound, not a movement. Just the lifeless stare of vacant eyes.
"C'mon, Jen, don't do this to me!" Piggeh ran his fingers through Jennifer's hair, something that would always stir her if she had fallen asleep next to him. Jennifer remained quiet. "Jen…"
Piggeh knew she was gone, but he didn't freak out like he expected himself to. What good would having a meltdown do? It wouldn't bring her back. All he wanted now was for her to sleep, to rest in peace. Piggeh bent down and placed another kiss on his friend's forehead, then delicately set her head down on the carpet. He tried to swallow down his sobs, but a few still managed to get past him.
"Something isn't right." Piggeh thought. "She doesn't look peaceful, like she's sleeping." Piggeh placed two careful fingers on Jennifer's eyelids and closed them. "There."
Pewdie wasn't his usual self as he searched through the dressers and closets of the master bedroom. He didn't crack any jokes or run around in circles trying to figure out the puzzle he and Stephano faced. He was just roaming aimlessly about, not saying a word. Stephano had never seen Pewdie do this before, but it appeared as though he was lost in deep thought. Stephano speedily ruled out that Pewdie was focusing on solving their puzzle; his short attention span didn't allow such a thing. Whatever Pewdie was thinking about, he had been dwelling on it a very long time.
"What's the matter, Pewds?" Stephano asked from across the room as he collected a few tinderboxes from the dresser.
"Hmm? Oh." Pewdie returned from his trance-like state. "Nothing."
Stephano shrugged and resumed searching for an answer to their puzzle. Pewdie tried to do the same, but even when out of a trance he was too distracted to focus on the task at hand. Finally he just abandoned it altogether and propped himself up against the closet.
"Hey, Stephano?" Pewdie sighed.
"Yes?" Stephano paused as he prepared to swing open a cabinet.
"Do you think I was too harsh on Jennifer earlier?"
"What? Oh, that." Stephano returned to his search. "No, I think you gave her exactly what she asked for."
"But I think I might've hurt her; I saw bruises on her when we left."
"Big deal. She's a rock, she's tough enough to get over it." Stephano sorted through a pile of junk he had found in the cabinet, finding a sanity potion.
"I don't know." Pewdie ran a tired hand down his face. "I think maybe I took it too far."
"If anyone took anything too far, Pewds, it was Jennifer." Stephano pointed at Pewdie with the sanity potion in his hand. "She went way out of line kissing you like that. You did what you had to do to keep her in her place."
"She doesn't have a "place"." Pewdie said. "She's our bro, and as her bros we have to take care of her. That's what bros do!"
Stephano set down the sanity potion. "I guess you're right." He sighed in begrudging agreement. Pewdie showed himself to the door. "Where are you going?"
"To find Jennifer." Pewdie responded as he opened the door. "I think I owe her an apology."
"Right now?" Stephano asked. "But what about the game?"
"It can wait." Pewdie said, motioning for Stephano to follow him out into the hallway. "Let's get going."
"You do realize that we can't progress if we don't solve this puzzle." Stephano remarked as he joined Pewdie in the hallway. "If anything, could we find the key before we leave?"
"Alright, fine!" Pewdie sighed in amusement. "We'll find the key first." The friends were coming up on a part of the castle they hadn't explored yet. Pewdie walked up to the first door he saw. "Let's look in here."
Pewdie reached for the handle, muttering to himself; "Don't be locked. Don't be locked. Don't be locked." Click! "Sweet!" The duo began to enter the room. "Okay, Stephano, let's get that stupid key and then we go looking for-."
Pewdie's words trailed off when the door closed behind him, and he and Stephano found themselves in a very dark room. Most rooms in the residential wing were brightly lit by candles and fireplaces, but all that remained of a light-giving fire were softly glowing embers too dim to provide much light. The only things close enough for the embers to cast light on were two figures laying in front of the fireplace. One figure was female, dressed all in black, and even in the dark her skin was sickly pale. The second figure lay next to the other on the floor, asleep, with one of his hands wrapped around the fingers of the female. The figures were both a bit too familiar to the duo for comfort. Pewdie held up his lantern as Stephano, always quick to act, approached his friends.
"Piggeh." Stephano gently shook the shoulder of the sleeping man. "Hey, bro, wake up."
Piggeh didn't move, he just kept on breathing rhythmically as he slept. There was dried fluid around his eyes and on his cheeks, clear signs that he had cried himself to sleep. Stephano turned to wake Jennifer, but froze. From the moment he entered the room he could tell something wasn't quite right with her, but seeing her up close suddenly made him wonder if the scene before them was more serious than they thought. Stephano touched the sides of Jennifer's neck, searching for a pulse. As if he had felt it himself, Piggeh's eyes sprung open.
"Don't touch her." He said in a monotone voice. "Just let her sleep."
Stephano slowly took his hands away from Jennifer's neck. "Jesus Christ." He muttered to himself as he gazed down at his only female bro.
"Stephano?" Pewdie asked hesitantly. "What's wrong with her?"
Stephano looked at his young companion in defeat. "Pewds," He sighed. "She's…" He stopped himself, unable to say it, and just shook his head.
Pewdie let out an awkward little chuckle. "That's a good one, Stephano! You almost got me there! Now tell me what's wrong with her."
"Pewds, I wasn't joking." Stephano said. The smirk on Pewdie's face vanished.
"Yes you were." Pewdie insisted. "You had to have been joking. There's no way you're serious!"
"I'm sorry, Pewds." Stephano said solemnly.
"What?!" Pewdie looked at Jennifer's body in dismay. "That can't be possible! What happened?!"
"Poisoned herself." Piggeh said flatly, gripping Jennifer's cold hand tighter. "Overdosed on laudanum. I…I watched her die, Pewdie."
"Why would she poison herself?" Stephano asked as he stood to his feet. "It makes no sense."
"It makes perfect sense to me." Piggeh said emotionlessly. It was like all of his fun-loving Piggeh self had been cried out of him. "You didn't know her like I did." Piggeh looked at Pewdie. "Congratulations, Pewdie; you got your wish. You'll never see Jennifer again."
Pewdie fell silent, just staring at Jennifer, thinking.
"Are you happy, Pewdie? 'Cause that's all she ever wanted; was to make you happy."
Pewdie's eyes began to water, and he gently blinked away the tears. "I wanted to apologize to her. Tell her I was sorry for everything I did!"
"Should 'a, would 'a, could 'a…but didn't." Piggeh was beginning to fall back asleep. Pewdie turned away, wiping his eyes with his hand.
Stephano, sensing that the proper time had come, stooped down and began picking Jennifer up. Piggeh woke with a start and halted Stephano by gripping his arm.
"Not yet." He begged. "I've stayed right here with her since she…I'm not ready to let her go. Not yet."
"Piggeh, be reasonable." Stephano said, and he continued gathering Jennifer into his arms. Piggeh sat bolt upright, still holding onto Jennifer's hand.
"Wait." Piggeh said, finally regaining some emotion into his voice. "At least let me do it."
Piggeh plucked a rose from one of Alexander's many rose bushes that grew in the grand courtyard. He was covered in dirt from head to toe, but he didn't care. The pink-haired man retreated to the shelter of the towering pine tree that grew in the center of the courtyard, rose in hand. He knelt on top of a mound of disturbed earth beside the trunk of the tree and carefully planted the rose in the exposed soil. Piggeh smiled. The courtyard was the perfect place for her to sleep. It was so much brighter during the day than the dingy storage rooms she had called her home. Here she would be safe from all the creatures that lurked around the castle, and it was far away from anything that had upset her: her brethren, her nightmares, and of course Pewdie.
Piggeh frowned at the mere thought of the blonde Swede. Pewdie would always be his bro, but he would never see him the same way again. He had killed Jennifer. Maybe not literally, but as Piggeh saw it he might as well have handed Jennifer those bottles of laudanum. And as for himself, well, he hadn't exactly helped by putting ideas into Jennifer's head either. In his eyes, they were both to blame.
Piggeh sniffed the rose he planted on Jennifer's grave, and as he got close he whispered to it. "No one will ever know you're here." He promised. "You can be at peace now. I swear no one will ever hurt you again."
A soft nighttime breeze blew through the courtyard, rustling the branches of the tree. As pine needles and rose petals were carried past him by the breeze, Piggeh could have sworn he felt a delicate hand come to rest on his shoulder. He closed his eyes, afraid to move. He inhaled the scent of pine and roses deeply.
"I'm sorry." He exhaled breathily.
The sensation of the hand vanished from his shoulder, and it reappeared again on his cheek as if someone were tenderly stroking it. Another breeze swept through the courtyard, and like a vapor the phantom hand was gone. Piggeh opened his eyes again and smiled half-heartedly. He sniffed the rose one last time and whispered it a final farewell;
"Sleep well, Jen."