Superficial: Part Six
Even from the air, the others no more than coloured dots
below me against the sandy gold of the bank and the crystalline sheen of the water,
I couldn't pick out any of the three pets. Surely there was some...
My eyes strayed thoughtfully to the thick vegetation
over the island between the two strips of river. Could it be...?
Without much hesitation I set off in the direction
of the island. Surely it couldn't hurt to look.
The island wasn't very large, just a wide flat
piece of land with forest and brambles growing thickly upon it. Feeling more
confident of my flight, I circled lower, gazing downward upon the treetops below
me, brushing the topmost leaves slightly with my hooves. Despite my anxiety,
I felt flushed with success and exhilaration. This flying thing, I could get
used to. I wondered why I had never thought to try it before.
It was after I cleared the top of a towering
behemoth of a tree that I noticed a bright spot of blue and red below me. Feeling
a jolt at the sight, I dropped lower, beating my wings hard to hover. Sure enough,
I could just make out the long ribbon-tail of Sekya and Virgil's feathered crest.
Excited, I slowed my wings' fevered beating in an attempt to sink down and land.
Unfortunately, landing seemed to be the one
part of flying that didn't come naturally. I dropped like a Pet Rock, just managing
to slow myself down enough not to get hurt, but I broke several twiggy branches
and landed with a heavy thud in a thick patch of wild raspberry bushes.
I emerged, shaking myself in annoyance. My mane
and tail were tangled in the leaves and I had to give them quite a hard tug
to free them. Also, I noticed with some dismay, my wings had been scratched
and torn slightly by the brambles. I'd still be able to fly with them, I reckoned,
but they did look rather unsightly now.
Suddenly remembering my mission, I turned my
attention instead to the two pets before me. Sekya's face was in the process
of turning from startled to hostile.
"What do you want, Uni," she growled, but I
sensed something in her voice. Somehow she didn't sound as angry as she had
the day she had returned the Rainbow Gelert Plushie. Was it.. pain I heard?
Virgil, however, wore an expression that shocked
me. His mask of cold superiority seemed to have melted away entirely. His eyes
were full of undisguised anguish, and as I gazed at him I thought saw him quake.
"She's hurt!" he burst out, unable to contain
himself any longer. His red wings flapped uselessly. "She's hurt, she's hurt..
and Mari's gone.. and I don't.. I don't know what to do.."
"Quiet, Virgil," Sekya snapped at him in fury.
"You fall apart at the least of things! Ugh." She gazed at me, pointedly. "And
you, what are you here for? I would have thought you'd be back on the bank with
your snotty friends, sunning your pretty blue hide," she added bitterly. But
now I saw the pain in her eyes, and realised she was trying to cover it by ranting
at me. I also noticed her right forepaw was tucked protectively underneath her
body, out of sight.
I hadn't been wrong. They did need help.
Immediately, I made a decision. I trotted determinedly
out of the raspberry patch.
"You," I stated firmly, prodding Virgil in his
feathered chest with my forehoof, "are going to fly back to the bank right now
and tell the Outdoorsers - and my "snotty" friends - where we are. And then
you are going to fly back here leading them to us. What are you waiting for?
The Lenny nodded his long head, shakily, and
took off like a gangly red rocket. As he disappeared above the screen of leaves,
I turned to Sekya. "And you are going to let me have a look at that paw."
"You don't touch me," Sekya protested sharply
as I advanced. "Virgil was exaggerating, he always does! There's nothing wrong
with me, I tell you! I'm just fi-" She broke off, wincing.
I stood over her, gazing down at my old enemy.
But somehow she didn't seem like my enemy anymore. She was just a pet in pain.
"Just let me help," I said, as gently as I could,
willing with all my might to Fyora that she would.
She gazed up at me with lacklustre eyes, and
I could see that at long last she, too, had discarded her mask.
"Alright," she whispered softly.
Carefully, slowly, I eased the paw out from
under her. The wrist was swelling fast, and I saw the skin under the fur turning
"I think I've sprained it." Sekya gasped with
pain as she extended the paw. "I fell over that rock over there.. landed full
on this paw."
I winced, thinking with regret of Satisha's
first-aid kit, lying snug in our tent back at the campsite. I knew next to nothing
about what to do, but I thought quickly.
"How about making you
a sort of bandage from these leaves here? It might... I don't know, cool it
a bit, make it feel better. Then we can just wait here for Virgil to come back
"No," Sekya moaned, trying to scrabble to her
feet with her good forepaw, holding the injured one limply in the air. Her explanation
came pouring out of her in a rush.
"Mari... Mari wandered off... she wanted to
explore the island so Virgil and I accompanied her here... We... we thought
it would be okay since technically we didn't leave the area... Virgil and I
sat down under this tree to watch her playing with the Flightning Bugs and we
must have dozed off because suddenly she wasn't there anymore... I was chasing
around trying to find her scent when I tripped over that rock... and then Virgil
lost it... and... I have to find my sister!" A sob broke through her voice.
I stared at her in shock and horror. So it had
been Mari all the time she was worried about.
"Well, we have to find her," I said. "But you're
in no condition to come... Just stay here. Virgil will find you and they'll
bring you back and fix up your paw. I'll find Mari. I promise."
Sekya stared at me, uncomprehendingly. "You'd...
do that? You'd look for her? But why? And why do you care so much about me...
about us? Why did you come looking for us at all?"
"I care about you," I shot back, firmly. "because
as much as you three have avoided me like the NeoPox, I wouldn't leave an injured
pet, a panicking one, and a missing one alone in the forest like that." I cocked
my head to the side. "...And, maybe, also because I wanted you to see that I'm
not who you seem to think I am."
With that I turned, trotting about, sniffing
at the undergrowth. Perhaps a Uni's sense of smell wasn't as keen as a Gelert's.
But still, I had something to go by. I vaguely remembered Mari's scent; light,
sweet, floral. After some careful searching I located a spot that smelt promisingly
enough like Mari. When I saw the tuft of yellow fur caught by a thorny branch,
"Well, I've think I've found her. I'll be going
now. Stay safe, Sekya."
I looked over my shoulder. Sekya's head was
up, her long ears erect, her eyes shining.
"Thank you. Thank you so much! And... I'm sorry."
A warm, wonderful glow filled my insides. Tossing
her a smile, I set off, nose to the ground, on Mari's trail.
I trotted quickly along the trail, which meandered
here and there. I guessed Mari must have been lost in a daydream, so lost that
she hadn't been aware of leaving the sight of her sister and friend. I wondered
where she could have gotten to.
The rush of the water broke into my thoughts.
Looking up, I saw that I'd reached the edge of the trees. Before me the ground
dropped sharply away into the other, stronger half of the river, forming a kind
of miniature, grassy cliff. Here the trail ended, abruptly.
An awful thought struck me. Suppose Mari had
fallen into the water? A little Kacheek like her could so easily be swept away
by the current...
Desperately I flapped my ragged wings and rose
into the air again, scanning the swift surface. Oh, no, surely not...
Suddenly I spied a dot of yellow against the
shining blue-white of the water. Swooping lower for a closer look, I saw to
my intense relief that it was, indeed, the small Kacheek. She had fallen into
the river but had somehow managed to catch hold of a dark rock that stuck out
above the surface. She had managed to climb on top of it and was perched there
on all four paws looking wet, cold and afraid.
"Mari!" I yelled above the thunderous voice
of the water. "Mari!"
The Kacheek, shivering with the chill wind and
water, glanced upwards. I could see in her eyes that she was slightly taken
aback by the sight of me, but she was obviously too far gone to refuse any kind
of help, even if it came from the Uni who had knocked her over on that first
day of school. She stood up on her hindlegs and held out her paws.
Hovering, I sank lower, willing my body to remain
airborne. I didn't want a repeat of what had happened in the forest as far as
my descent was concerned. I must not fall.
Lower, lower, lower, slowly, easily... My heart
was in my mouth until I felt the pressure of Mari's soft little paws grasp my
hooves. Quickly as a Mirgle, she scampered nimbly up my forelegs, around my
neck and over my shoulder. There she sat, seated between my wings. It all happened
so quickly that I could only blink in bemusement.
I felt paws on either side of my neck.
"L-let's g-get back now, quickly, p-please,"
Mari stuttered through chattering teeth. And then, shyly, "...and th-thank you."
A laugh of pure relief almost burst from my
throat. "Curl up in my mane, Mari. It'll soon warm you up."
That night, we sat in a tired, happy circle
while Isabelle and George set up a blazing, beautiful campfire in the middle.
A loud cheer went up when Artie appeared out of the Outdoorsers' tent with several
packets of marshmallows and the last of the sausages. I had never eaten marshmallows
toasted before, and the warm, creamy inside was both a surprise and a delight.
I was laughing, saying something to SugarFlower
when I noticed Sekya lying on her belly, some distance away from the others.
Her wounded paw was stretched out before her, dressed and bandaged by the Outdoorsers.
Even Virgil and Mari were not with her.
Virgil had been effusive in his thanks to me,
while Mari, smiling a tad bashfully, had come over and shaken my hoof. Artie
had clapped me on the back and called me 'the first Faerie Outdoorser', to much
uproarious laughter from George, Isabelle and the others. The other pets from
my year had looked at me with a new admiration and respect in their eyes. But
throughout the rest of the day, I hadn't seen Sekya until now.
Giving my friends a meaningful glance, I got
up and went slowly over to her.
She looked up as I came. I half expected a rebuff,
that all her old toughness had returned. But she merely gazed at me impassively,
so I plumped down beside her.
"How's the paw?" I asked.
"Oh, it's alright. Feeling much better now.
I was lucky you came." Her voice was deadpan, her face blank.
I gazed at her with concern. "Is everything
"No, it's just... I've been so mean to you,
Maybellene. I never really thought you were trying to help. I thought... oh,
I don't know, thought you were trying to rub it in my face, that I... eat from
the Soup Kitchen... that I have plain fur... I didn't think... oh, May, I'm
sorry." She lowered her muzzle to the ground.
I patted her lightly on the shoulder. "It's
alright. But... why did you think I was like that, anyway?"
Sekya sighed. "It was because of our previous
neighbourhood. See, Mari and I, our owner doesn't get much NP. Thinks it's better
that way, that way we can appreciate each other's company and all that dung.
Well, we used to live in a small, one-room NeoHome back in Bracknell Road before
we moved to Soup Alley, and one of our immediate neighbours was this white Uni,
Alys. Her NeoHome was pretty small too, but it was made out of gold and clouds
and all sorts of outlandish things, and she had a big NeoGarden, with a pond
and a fountain and everything. And she liked to lord it over us, about our owner
not having much and our NeoHome threadbare and only made of straw. Every time
we came out of the house, she'd be there, looking at us down her snooty nose
with this smug grin on her face. Sometimes her friends would come round to visit,
all prettied up, and they'd look over the fence and sneer at us, and whisper
"One day, she went too far." Sekya's voice trembled
slightly, with bitter rage. "Our owner asked me to take Mari to the Neopian
Bazaar for some groceries, so we left the house and started out. Alys and her
friends were standing in the street, blocking our path, and then they... they...
grabbed me and held me back while Alys picked Mari up by her neckscruff and
flung her in a puddle of mud. And I... I was stuck. I couldn't do anything to
Sekya took a deep breath, swallowing her anger,
before continuing. "That day was the last straw for me. I hated Alys and her
snobby friends. I almost hated my owner for not bothering to get us more money
so we wouldn't have to face all of this. I started reading the Neopian Times
around then, too, and there seemed to be so many stories about a group of vain,
rich, painted, stuck up pets in NeoSchool who lorded it over the others. I guess,
because of that and Alys, I started thinking that all painted rich pets were
like that. And when we were about to start NeoSchool together, me and Mari and
Virgil - we met him when we moved to our new place - I was so sure that we'd
run into a group of pets like that, that I promised myself I'd protect Mari
from them at whatever cost."
She sighed and dropped her head again, shamefaced,
and her ears drooped slightly. "And I guess when I saw you knock her over that
day... I just... snapped. And I... couldn't break my mind from thinking that
way about you. I'm sorry."
For some reason it was painful to see her looking
so woebegone, and I almost wished, for an instant, that the old, tough, scowling
Sekya was back there in front of me. I smiled. "That's okay. I'm sorry too -
I used to think you were rude, irrational and mean. But I understand now, why
you feel that way. That Alys sounds really horrible."
I paused, considering, my head alive with new
thoughts and ideas that seemed to be waking, one by one. "I guess I've never
really known other pets besides Satisha. All my life I've been kept in this
big house, away from all this... I was given everything I could want... had
everything done for me and never really did things for myself..."
I sat back, ruminating, snatching and turning
over each renegade thought in my head as it whirled by. It was true. I had never
really had a chance to make decisions for myself. I had followed my friends,
listened to them, asked for their advice, but out in the woods with Sekya had
been the time I had made up my own mind, taken charge. It was a good feeling.
Something I could definitely get used to.
Listening to Sekya had not only made me understand
why she'd hated me the way she had, it had, too, made me realise for the first
time that not all other pets lived the way I did. That thing Sekya had said,
about her owner wanting them to stay poor so they could 'better appreciate each
other's company'... Could that have been what Mother had meant when she had
said she wasn't a good owner? I wondered. Having Mother around all the time,
spending time with me, being more like my friend, like Satisha and Sugar and
Farowyn... it had never occurred to me that I could have that kind of a relationship
with Mother. I certainly had never thought of her in that way. I wondered how
many pets there were whose best friends were their owners.
It had been strange, really. I still wasn't
sure whether I belonged in this new world that I'd discovered. It had taken
me forever to comb the leaves and twigs out of my mane and tail, and my wings
still looked a bit tatty. The hair of my mane and tail was getting a bit dry
and snarly, too, and I wished fervently I hadn't used nearly all my bottle of
Peophin Shampoo up with washing it yesterday. I couldn't pretend to be happy
about all that. Yet, somehow, it didn't seem to matter. It had been fun. And
I seemed to have made a new friend... or three. We came from completely different
worlds, and we had virtually nothing in common. And yet, I thought, and yet,
if we could accept each other for who we were, we could stay friends.
Mother, too. She wasn't a friend to me, not
the way Sekya's owner had been. But I knew despite that that she cared deeply
about me, and perhaps that was enough. Perhaps she just didn't know how to show
it. I knew that long ago, I'd accepted Mother loving me in her own way. I could
tell her, truly now, that she didn't have to worry. I would rather have her
than any other owner. I smiled to myself at all the new ideas in my head, fresh
and glowing and brilliant. Things seemed much bigger and brighter and clearer
now than they had ever been before. I turned back to Sekya.
"You know, I've never really been to the Neopian
Marketplace or shopped for anything alone before, either," I said slowly. "Perhaps
you could show me, sometime?"
Sekya returned my smile, somewhat wanly. "I'd
Rising to my feet, I saw Virgil and Mari coming
over, each with a steaming sausage on a skewer held in paw and wing. Looking
back, I noticed Satisha, SugarFlower and Farowyn approaching, too. I stood back
and turned to address them happily.
"Come on over here, guys. I'd like you to meet
some new friends of mine."