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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 6th day of Running, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 131 > Continuing Series > Zajen: Part Three

Zajen: Part Three

by flipp_garuda

When Outlast, Sabin, and Vackran pounded to a halt on the stone bridge in the swamp surrounding the Shadow Alliance's Neohome, all were panting but Sabin, who squealed and bounced in circles. Gavdrael stood closer, staring off to the northeast, as if waiting.

     Triano and Zajen, the Halloween Whoot, sat on their owners' shoulders. Triano hopped down from Outlast and slid purposefully towards the dark Scorchio. "What is it…?"

     Gavdrael only pointed with his free hand, the other held a glittering sword, its hilt as black as its owner.

     The sky above the tangled woods surrounding the swamp were black and churning, but the rain only fell in weak, erratic drizzles now. Triano frowned, crossing his fins. "I don't see why we're just sitting here. If anything is really coming, I think we should prepare for it."

     Vackran stared at Triano, and then stared at Gavdrael. "You're not prepared for this sort of thing?" Zajen buried herself deeper into Vackran's black fur.

     Outlast shrugged. "Aside from the occasional annihilation threat from agents like Magnolia and opposition like Myyth and Sloth… We haven't had much need for constant defenses. Anyway, we have Gavdrael."

     "But if it's bad enough, will even he be able to stand up against it?" Vackran asked quietly.

     Outlast couldn't respond. He didn't have an answer.

     "Where's Mareninini?" Sabin sang from behind them. "All soft and fuzzy…" He skipped back and forth on the bridge, finally flying awkwardly into the air and swooping over the bog in a series of dives and back flips.

     "Where is Mareni?" Triano muttered aloud. "And Capone?"

     Suddenly, Zajen squeaked and leapt out of Vackran's fur, leaping into the air, scythe whirling to the southwest, then back again to the northeast, and then she collapsed into wordless wailing and trembling. Vack put a comforting paw over her, a paw that nearly enveloped the dark little Whoot completely.

     The trees rumbled suddenly. Gavdrael's feet slid across the stone as he braced himself, readying his sword. Sabin hurtled backwards in the air above the bubbling swamp as if struck, and the dark clouds above them drizzled rain. Hissing, Outlast pulled an Attack Fork from his striped shirt and followed Gavdrael's example with both fork and glistening silver claw, slick with drops of rainwater.

     With a shriek, Sabin zoomed across the swamp and into the only open Neohome window in Outlast's kitchen to the left of the door before them.

     Muttering, Outlast opened his mouth to order Sabin to close the window, but he hadn't a chance. Trees trembled while wild Neopets and petpets fled in fear, the darkness between the trees blurring with their colors as they fled.

     From the great depths of the forest, something crept ever closer. As it did, Zajen trembled more and more, whimpering louder and louder with increasing frequency. Something within the depths of the forest cried out in terror and was abruptly silent. Soon, all was silent, save Zajen's frantic whimpering.

     Triano growled. "All of this for nothing?" he cried, whirling to face Vackran and Zajen. "You talk to me about…" he stammered suddenly, jaw dropping in horror, for at the end of the bridge, a seemingly innocent, furry green beast with horns on its brow smiled.

     "I have come," the beast announced, "for your Neopoints!"

     Triano, eyes the size of saucers, let out such a wail that even Zajen looked up in surprise. "To the north, Gavdrael! The north!" Without thought, Triano jumped headlong into the swamp, splashing mud and muck as he struggled to swim across.

     The tax beast was just beginning to make its slow, cruel descent upon them, stepping easily onto the first stone block that made up the bridge. Muttering, Outlast turned to the stainless steel building and cried, "Sabin! Release the prunes!"

     Sabin's purple head poked out the window, one claw up in a salute, "Yes, ma'am, Outlast, ma'am!" A moment later, small, purplish-blue, wrinkly blobs on minute black wings fluttered out of the window.

     Outlast growled and shook his claw with the Fork in it at the window, as the tax beast cocked his head, looked at the flying gnats blankly, and then burst out laughing. "You expect to stop me with these? You must be in…" His eyes widened as each little prune grew razor sharp teeth. Some say they heard him crying on Mystery Island.

     Snickering, Outlast fished the floundering Triano out of the swamp. "Should I make my smart remark now?"

     Triano glared. "Don't make me hurt you, prune boy."

     Zajen still shivered, her scythe thrust out to the northeast, where the rumbling had begun.

     "But what can be worse than unpaid taxes?" Triano asked dumbly.

     The ground shook once more, and the clouds stopped their rain in fear, while there was nothing left in the forests to run. Zajen yelped and jumped onto Outlast, hiding in the kerchief around his neck. Gently, Outlast stroked Zajen's gray feathers and dark cloak with his silver hook. "There, there, little one, don't be afraid. I've got plenty more prunes to beat up whatever comes out of those trees!"

     Zajen peeked one big eye questioningly from beneath the kerchief, and then dove back in again.

     "How come you never say anything that nice to me?" Triano asked Outlast indignantly, glaring at him.

     Outlast smiled, showing all of his teeth. "Because I'm not nice to dinner."

     Triano narrowed his eyes and sniffed haughtily, turning pointedly back to the northeast wood.

     "Scared." Zajen whispered quietly. "Scare Zajen. Zajen scared."

     Outlast blinked and looked down. He could barely hear her, but he was sure the little Whoot had spoken. "Scared of what? What's out there?"

     "Zajen had nightmare. Nightmare bring Lupe."

     "Like Vackran?"

     Now the shadow Lupe himself was beside them, holding his breath at every word.

     "Not Vack. Bigger."

     "Bigger than Vack? Bigger than Deadele?" Triano asked in disbelief. Vackran and Deadele were the biggest Lupes he had ever seen.

     "Bigger," the Whoot squeaked and burrowed closer to Outlast's neck.

     Bigger. The three of them mouthed the word silently, while, beside them, Gavdrael stood stone still, staring to the northeast.

     "Can you ask the Lupe to go away?" Vackran asked his petpet gently, more gently than Outlast and Triano had ever seen him.

     "Maybe," Zajen whispered. "Haven't tried."

     "Try," Outlast told the Whoot, stroking her still.

     A flicker of deep blue and yellow stalked into view across the swamp. Balthazar gazed across the swamp and then smiled, laughing silently.

     Gavdrael finally moved in a flurry, his black wings stretching as he pushed himself off of the bridge, breaking into the air with such speed and force that it barely took a flap of his wings to torpedo his way across the bog. Without a sound, he brought his enchanted sword down on the Lupe, but he caught it casually in his paws.

     "Not good enough!" he laughed, throwing the Scorchio into the swamp by his sword.

     Gavdrael was sucked down into the bog, weighted by his cloak, wings, and sword, and for a moment those petrified on the bridge were sure he was lost. Then, miraculously, he broke the surface, spinning in to the air, muck flying in all directions, splattering trees and Balthazar's coat. His dark wings spread in a stunning display, his cloak flying around him, and he dove again.

     Abruptly, Zajen fled the safety of Outlast's kerchief, flying out over the bog. "Go away!" She cried, her voice high and cracking at its volume. "We don't want you here!"

     Gavdrael stopped his charge with a burst of outstretched wings, and spiraled back up above the treetops.

     Balthazar squinted at the little gray Whoot with her scythe and black cloak. "You summoned me here! You called me in my dreams!"

     Zajen shook her head, the hood of her cloak whipping with the force of it. "Bad dream! Zajen had nightmare! Don't want you here anymore."

     Balthazar growled. "You summoned me here, with such power, and now you simply dismiss me with no instruction at all? I rushed here from my sleep to find who called me, and now you do not want me? Why should I do as you say? You fear your own power, Whoot!"

     "Go away!"

     Balthazar growled and shook his head. "I will not leave unless I am defeated or unless I receive something for my trouble!"

     "Zajen say go away!" The Whoot cried, and her eyes glowed golden, and the wind whipped, knocking even Gavdrael into the trees. Zajen hovered, unaffected, above the bog, while those stuck, speechless, on the bridge braced against each other to stay on it. Rain pounded around them, splattering mud and muck in the bog, pelting Balthazar with raindrops that felt more like hail. Lightning shot through the air, followed by a boom of thunder louder than any heard already that night, though by now dawn should have been reaching its fingers across the sky.

     Balthazar growled and leaned back on his haunches, wincing from the wind and rain, and prepared to leap at the Whoot, when Gavdrael struck from behind. Balthazar howled as the flat of the sword hit him, and lightning sent a tree smoking and earth flying near the end of the bridge, leaving Balthazar momentarily blinded.

     Finally, the Lupe turned, tail pressed between his legs, looking back in indignation, anger, and loss, and fled back into the Haunted Woods. The lightning stopped, the wind died, and the rain ceased to drizzle, and Gavdrael glided across the bog onto the stone bridge as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. Zajen zipped back down and plunged into Outlast's kerchief, shivering.

     "Well!" Triano cried, turning towards the Neohome. "That's done and over with! Now, I want to take a nice warm bath and catch up on my sleep, and then I'll…"

     "If Zajen had enough power to summon Balthazar, and making him think he should obey her, no less, just by having a nightmare about him," Outlast mused. "Well, it goes without saying that she does indeed have a power that needs to be cared for. But if she summoned Balthazar, where did the tax beast come from?"

     Triano froze and looked back at the other three, shivering. When they all walked back to the Neohome, Gavdrael had disappeared, but no one had expected him to stay.

*

Mareni and Capone watched as the tax beast fled in fear, pursued by a swarm of flying prunes.

     "I don't like this," Mareni growled, dragging a paw through the wet soil. "I don't like this at all!"

     Capone sighed dejectedly. "We tried…"

     "We tipped off the tax beast, Triano's major fear, and yet it is the tax beast who runs screaming, not the fae-forsaken fish!" Mareni growled and finally stomped his paw into the dirt.

     "Why don't you just stop working for him?" Capone muttered, adjusting her coat.

     Mareni sighed. "Must I explain my motives to you again?"

     Capone snorted. "As if I haven't heard them enough." She stepped carefully back onto the main path to the Neohome, avoiding as much mud and puddles as she could, which was nearly impossible, the state the path was in. Mareni followed, and paused as footsteps sounded across the dirt path.

     "What the…?" Mareni murmured, turning.

     The tax beast wailed, its green fur eaten by prunes, leaving only bare pink skin. "You owe me NP, you little puppy!" he screeched.

     Capone, caught between a fit of giggles and shrieking, took off running down the muddy path, her red white-trimmed coat flying, and managed to reach the Neohome in the bog safely.

     Mareni was not so lucky.

The End

Previous Episodes

Zajen: Part One

Zajen: Part Two


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