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Inexorable: Part Four


by haannsolo

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Running, running away…a giant Mutant Krawk was chasing him, its snapping jaws millimeters from his tail, but it never quite caught up. So he kept running, and running, and running, and he knew there would be no end to it because while the creature couldn't quite catch him its steps would never falter. He would be like this for eternity…then suddenly, he heard a strange call. Or was it familiar? He couldn't quite tell. The intruding voice, floating gently around the leaves over his head, was saying, "Ryddle, Ryddle!"

     "Ryddle, wake up!"

     He sat bold upright, realizing in a rush that it had all been a dream. Or rather, a nightmare, which wasn't surprising, considering what had taken place just the night before.

     Blinking sleep from his eyes, Ryddle looked up at his towering sister Sylver. He clambered to his feet. Not so towering now. "What is it?" he asked blearily.

     "Flytta went to get some water, because she heard a spring - and she saw - well, come see for yourself."

     With a sigh, Ryddle shuffled his wings a little, attempting to minimize the stiffness that was already coming on. He wasn't used to sleeping on the ground, even a relatively cushioned forest floor. "Whatever," he grumbled. "Lead the way."

     "All right, sleepyhead," she said haughtily. Half-fluttering, half-walking, Sylver led him down an apparently natural path. Then, quite abruptly, sun streamed down at them. Ryddle realized that they must have strayed far from their intended course, for they were at the edge of the forest. Then it all came to him.

     "Oh no!" he breathed.

     Sylver looked puzzled for a split second. Before she had a chance to inquire, she understood. There was a stream all right, except that it was already being used. A yellow Blumaroo was sitting next to it attempting to fill a rusty bucket. "Why's it just yellow?" Sylver asked, contempt clearly audible in her whisper. "Was its owner too lazy to paint it?"

     Ryddle shrugged impatiently, trying to quell the rising panic he felt somewhere in his throat. "Who knows, who cares? We have a major problem."

     "Oh?" she hissed. "And what is it?" It was obvious that she didn't expect any very adequately convincing explanation.

     "I know where we are, Sylver! I recognize this place. Somehow we've gone way to the West and ended up right next to the village. We must have gone in circles at some point."

     "And…why is that a cause for concern?"

     There was an edge to Ryddle's voice as he replied, "Don't you remember what Phantom said about the villagers rebelling? He seemed to think they might even attack us at the house. So if they catch us alone and undefended..."

     He didn't need to finish his sentence. Sylver's light blue eyes were already full of fear. They exchanged with a look the thoughts which they couldn't quite put into words. Their current existence was vulnerable enough without the threat of angry villagers. All his life Ryddle had heard the tales of their violence, and yet he had always been comfortably removed from what he now had to face as reality.

     "Oh, Phantom, what's going to happen to us?" he murmured, too quietly for Sylver to hear. If only his brother were here. Phantom always knew what to do.

     "Ryddle," said Sylver in the exaggerated calm of terror. "We're going to have to be very careful getting out of here. That Blumaroo doesn't look especially threatening, but…"

     Ryddle understood. There could easily be more nearby, and even with the Blumaroo, looks could be deceiving. "We'd better leave."

     Suddenly they whipped around in horror as they heard Flytta's voice. "Are you getting that water or not?" The sound wasn't very loud, but as they moved in surprise Ryddle realized they had a new problem: the Blumaroo had heard them.

     Sylver managed a vicious whisper of, "Idiot!" before she subsided, crouching as low in the brush as she could.

     It was no use. The yellow Blumaroo got up, looking curious, and walked over toward them. It took a moment before the villager's eyes caught their frozen forms. "Hello," said the Blumaroo pleasantly, in a pleasant voice that was definitively male.

     Sylver shrank back further into a holly bush, for once ignoring the discomfort of the eager, fine-tipped thorns. It came to Ryddle that hiding was out of the question now, so he stepped forward. His hackles rose and his feathery mane bristled, aiding his eyes in bestowing on him a truly demonic appearance. "What do you want?"

     The Blumaroo gave a squeal of fright. "Rafette! Scrappy! Help!"

     Ryddle was taken aback. Surely this couldn't be one of the vicious, bloodthirsty serfs he had always heard of? But what else could the terrified little Blumaroo be? He let most of his fur and feathers and fur lie flat as he took another step toward the creature. "It's okay," he said softly, although there was still threat in his voice. "I'm not here to hurt you." He hoped the Blumaroo couldn't tell that it was the threat of a wild animal cornered and fighting for its life. Ryddle had never felt hunted before, forced to think of conflict as a fact of life rather than a sport. It was a strange feeling.

     At the same time, he felt almost as though he was in one of the adventure stories Phantom used to tell him. The ones of Krawk pirates, the ones of Faeries reigning in peace, the ones of Lord Darigan himself.

     "Why are you here then?" asked the Blumaroo, his voice trembling but bravely determined to show as little weakness as possible.

     "We are lost," replied Ryddle. It reminded him of the tales of the Virtupets Space Station, as Dr. Sloth tried to negotiate with creatures of other planets. Of course, since his naïve childhood he had come to be slightly skeptical on there really being "aliens". All the same…

     "Lost?" squeaked the Blumaroo. "Oh. You look like Lord Kass."

     Of course, Ryddle realized. Another Darigan Eyrie, although probably much larger and much more frightening. "Well, I'm not," he said firmly. "I just support him, like everyone except those stupid people who hold savage riots and support King Skarl."

     To his chagrin, the Blumaroo's mouth fell open. "You support Kass? But why?"

     "That's what I'd like to know," said a grim voice from the other side of the clearing. "My, my, well isn't it the rich little snob from the mansion?"

     Ryddle didn't need to look up to know he was in trouble.

     ***

     One wet, dreary, tense half-hour later, Ryddle was left with his mind chasing thoughts in circles. He couldn't quite decide whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that Flytta had been caught as well. If she had been left out in the forest, she might have escaped. On the other hand, would she have taken advantage of the situation?

     Well, what was done was done. There wasn't really any point in fantasizing about what might have been. What might have been if they hadn't been forced to leave their house…

     Ryddle shook his head in annoyance. It was so useless. But he had nothing better to do. He had lost track of the minutes since a tough Wocky whose size belied her formidable strength had forced him to follow her. Oddly enough, he had to struggle to remember. Unless he was getting it wrong, which was quite possible given his current state of mind, Ryddle along with his two sisters had been herded by a crowd of jeering villagers into the small shack where they lay now. They hadn't spoken, except for Sylver's falsely cheerful attempts at conversation, and the monosyllabic replies he and Flytta had offered her in return. She'd given up quickly.

     The fact was, there was nothing to be said. What really tortured Ryddle was the fact that Phantom might have given his life to save them; they had been given their chance, and they had made a mistake. When you were running to save your necks there was no room for mistakes.

     What if Phantom had died for them?

     If so, there was little Ryddle could do about it, because unless he got very, very lucky, he was about to die as well.

     Suddenly the door was flung roughly open and light flooded the dingy little shack. "Get up," barked a harsh, merciless voice.

     Ryddle rolled over to see the same Christmas Wocky that had captured them. It seemed ludicrous, now, that he and two others had been captured by the Wocky and the Blumaroo. Perhaps it had just been that deep in Ryddle's nature was an impulse to avoid conflict.

     Looking at her for another minute, Ryddle could actually believe that she might have won a fight. He was well fed, well trained, and in prime condition, his feathers glossy and his talons sharp. But somewhere in her amber eyes was a toughness he had never faced before, and she was thin, but lithe and muscular along with it. All in all, she looked ferociously determined enough to conquer anything she came up against.

     "Come on," she said impatiently. "You might be used to having servants do everything for you. Unfortunately, it seems that things have changed. So you're either going to have to learn to get things done or deal with the consequences."

     Ryddle couldn't quite figure out why her words stung like whiplashes, but he couldn't help obeying her commanding tone. He climbed slowly to his feet. He hadn't noticed before that his leg and wing muscles were stiff and cramped. Maybe it had happened while he was lying there.

     Rustling behind him announced that Sylver and Flytta were cooperating as well. They followed the Wocky out into a sort of neighborhood courtyard, the clearing between a number of tiny houses. Ryddle realized that what he had taken for a shack had actually been the size of one of these dwellings. How could the villagers live like this?

     Except…

     He remembered something that had happened once, long before any threat of the war. Phantom had taken him down to the village - something that didn't occur very often, as his owner felt that it was a bad influence - and he had seen something he would never forget. A smiling owner, throwing a Frisbee to a yellow Lupe. The Lupe's mouth had been open, tongue lolling in a grin of pure bliss. They obviously hadn't had much money, yet they had seemed happier than Ryddle had ever seen a member of his family. It had always stayed with him. It had just taken this to bring it to the front of his memories again.

     He was jolted out of the pleasant memory by a rough shove. "Get out there," said a large blue Bori. "We'll decide what's to be done with you, all right."

     Their voices carried accents Ryddle had never heard before, and all of them looked scruffy and ill groomed. For the first time, he started to wonder whether it was by choice that they were unkempt - or because they had no other option.

     Then another thought struck him. Where were all the owners? Surely one pet's owner was here?

     The Christmas Wocky leaped effortlessly onto a large stone that stood somewhere in the middle of the space between the houses. "Well now, friends, look who we found in the forest! Obviously they've been bumped a little ways down the social ladder." Malicious laughter followed her words, and she waited for it to die down before continuing. "So the question is, what are we going to do with the little lost rich pets?"

     "Turn 'em out!" suggested a Pteri from the front of the crowd.

     "Oh, yeah," screamed a Mutant Lenny. "Don't just turn them out - don't let them forget it either!"

     "They ought to know where they belong!"

     "In front of fireplaces, covered in down feather blankets, not out in the real world."

     Ryddle looked around hopelessly. He didn't even care to think about what, "Don't let them forget it" might mean. Wasn't there a single Neopet who was going to stand up for them?

     Silence spread over the villagers as a dusty silver Lupe stepped out, shaggy-furred and handsome. Ryddle liked the look of him. Something in his features betrayed a good sense of humor, and a love of a little mischievous fun. "What are we talking about?" the Lupe said. "How would you like it if they treated us the same as you're proposing to treat them?"

     Nobody spoke as they pondered this thought.

     The silver Lupe rounded on Ryddle, Sylver, and Flytta. "What would you do if a villager strayed into your yard?" he asked Ryddle. It was logical, as he was standing in front, but Ryddle had to make an effort not to squirm as the Lupe's strikingly blue eyes bored into him. "Answer me honestly, now."

     "I -" Ryddle did his best to think honestly for a minute. "I don't think we'd be happy, but, well, it would depend on the circumstances. There's no way we'd hurt you!" he added hastily.

     "There you are," said the Lupe simply. "I don't think he means us any harm. He sounds like he's telling the truth, don't you think? It's obvious that he hasn't really started to pick up after his owner and brother yet. Let the point lie."

     And to Ryddle's utter astonishment, the crowd dispersed as quickly as it had formed. The only one to have a last word was the Wocky. She swaggered up to him, bristling, eyes narrowed. "I guess that means you can stay for now," she said. "Just remember, for once in your miserable lives you'll have to work. Don't forget, I've got my eye on you."

     With that, she turned and walked away.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Inexorable: Part One
» Inexorable: Part Two
» Inexorable: Part Three
» Inexorable: Part Five
» Inexorable



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