The Orphan and the Beast: Part Three
None of the four beings involved in the chase actually saw
the rock as it leapt from the blackness on their right, but the bird-thing certainly
felt it, and as the speeding projectile slammed into its head it staggered sideways
in midair, letting out a croaking scream of protest. All thoughts of the bite-sized
Wocky it had been chasing were banished from its mind as it turned its hideous
head to face its new assailant.
An instant later another scream reclaimed its
attention, and turning back to its prey the falcon saw that the Wocky had tripped,
fallen and skidded to a halt, spraining her ankle as she went down. She tried
to get up, but she instantly found that she couldn't put any weight on her injured
foot, and was forced to stand swaying on her good leg, unable to run away. Its
thoughts turned once again to the all-consuming concept of food, and the bird-thing
pounced at Leah, its head thrusting forward to the full length of its long,
serpentine neck as it prepared to snap up the little Wocky whole.
No sooner had it begun this second attack than
it let out a choking squawk, its ugly head snapping sharply back; and staring
at the space above the falcon Kamro could just make out the dim silhouette of
a long, lanky, bat-winged creature, which seemed to have lassoed the bird with
its tail and now was flapping as hard as it could. The Zafara's eyes widened,
but when he tried to call out to Leah no voice would come.
The falcon struggled furiously, but the bat-creature
was strong, and while the bird was fifteen feet long compared its adversary's
ten, its air supply was effectively cut off and it soon became clear that it
was losing ground. Slowly the two combatants began to move backward, and Kamro
tensed as he realized that Leah's rescuer seemed to be dragging its opponent
toward the edge of the cliff.
Seeing that Satiria was now well ahead of him,
Kamro forced himself to tear his eyes from the fight, then bounded toward Leah,
who had collapsed to the ground with tears streaming from her wide and frightened
eyes. "Kamro," she whimpered as the Zafara joined his sisters, "I can't do this
again. I was so scared…"
"We know," Satiria said softly before Kamro
could reply. "We know, baby. It's OK now."
Kamro knelt on Leah's left side which Satiria
crouched on her right, and together they held their sister and rocked her as
if she were still an infant. Leah made no effort to stand up or pull away, but
went limp in their arms and cried softly while her siblings did what they could
to comfort her.
"Leah, do you realize what just happened?" Satiria
whispered. "If you hadn't pulled that thing out of the trap, you- and maybe
even the rest of us- would have been killed!"
Upon hearing this Leah stiffened, then sat bolt
upright, her tearstained eyes wild with concern. "He's gonna get killed!" she
wailed in anguish, and Kamro and Satiria jumped.
Satiria began to stroke the back of Leah's head,
and as she caressed her sister she whispered, "Don't worry, Lee- I think he'll
be fine. He was winning when last I looked at him."
"But he's hurt," the agitated child protested.
"He's got those cuts on his ankle- he couldn't even put much weight on it!"
"The fight was happening in the air, Leah,"
Satiria reminded her. "And with your friend holding that bird thing's neck,
I don't think it could use its beak." Leah opened her mouth, but Satiria anticipated
her words and added before she could voice them, "And the bird's claws wouldn't
be much use against an opponent who was flying above it. He's going to be fine."
Leah gave a quiet sniff and wiped a lingering
tear from her eye. "Do you really think so?" she asked, and Kamro nodded firmly.
"I know so," he said, hoping he did not lie.
"I don't know if he's going to come straight back, but I don't think that bird
sucker has a chance."
Leah heaved a shuddery sigh. "I hope we see
him again," she said. "I just met him today, but I'm still gonna miss him if
Kamro glanced at Satiria, and he could tell
that she was as touched as he was. Leah rarely got attached to anyone this quickly-
in fact, it was completely unprecedented- but Kamro supposed that having saved
each others' lives would have formed a special bond.
Something suddenly occurred to Kamro. "It's
a good thing we packed for the night, because you'll need awhile to recover
before you can climb down with that leg, Leah. I'm not sure when we'll be able
to get home."
Leah closed her eyes for a moment and sniffled
again; but when she opened them they suddenly became as round as full moons,
and her mouth opened to emit a soft "Oh!" as she leaned toward the source of
her surprise. Kamro twisted his head, and there before him stood the bat creature,
breathing heavily but seemingly unharmed, although Kamro thought it was putting
a little more weight on its right leg than its left. Kamro could tell that Satiria
tensed, but Leah seemed to be completely unafraid, her eyes and manner displaying
only joy to see that her new friend appeared to be all right. "Are you OK?"
she asked, and the creature cocked its head.
"I don't think he understands, Leah," Kamro
whispered, and Leah sagged slightly with disappointment. Eager to reassure her,
the Zafara added, "But he looks OK to me."
The creature stepped forward, studying the siblings
intently. Then, to all three Neopets' surprise, it suddenly reached for Kamro,
grabbed him gently but firmly under the armpits, and began to lift him into
the air. For a moment the startled Zafara clung to Leah, but quickly let go
when he realized that holding onto his sister would result in more harm than
good. The creature bent down, and Kamro tensed with surprise as it gently lowered
him onto its back.
As Kamro began to slide off, his fur providing
no friction against the glassy scales, it took every ounce of his self-control
to resist the instinct to dig his claws into the massive entity's shoulders
in order to keep his hold; but the mental picture of its possibly violent reaction
gave him the necessary willpower, and to Kamro's relief the creature sensed
his difficulty and hunkered down further, giving him a more level surface. It
then repeated the process with Satiria, who closed her eyes tightly but did
not resist. Kamro's battle against instinct became significantly more difficult
when the creature released its hold on the Cybunny, whose arms immediately proceeded
to latch onto her brother's waist, nearly dragging him off of his perch.
But in a moment his difficulty was forgotten,
and Kamro stared with rapt fascination over his strange ally's shoulder at the
touching scene which unfolded before his eyes. Reaching down, the creature slid
one long-fingered hand under the backs of Leah's knees, and the other supported
her back as it lifted her up like a baby, cradling her against its narrow chest
as if she were a priceless sculpture of fragile glass. For a moment the little
Wocky's eyes widened; but then they closed again in an expression of absolute
trust and contentment, and she nestled against the bat-creature's scaly body,
a slight smile softening her face. Kamro's mind was drawn back to the days when
his parents were still alive, when Leah would settle back into her mother's
arms and let the lingering fear of a nightmare be brushed away by the gentle
stroking of her mother's paws.
Then the creature took off at a run, remaining
half-stooped to avoid shedding its passengers, the muscles in its back rippling
with the long, sweeping beats of its wings as it gathered speed. Kamro's breath
caught, and Satiria gasped and tightened her already vise-like grip on his waist.
They were nearing the edge of the cliff, but the massive being did not even
slow down, instead continuing to accelerate. Kamro felt his heart start to race,
and a rush of adrenaline surged through his body as the bat-creature shot off
the edge, its wings locking in place for a moment as it glided through the air
before beginning to flap in a slow, strong, steady rhythm.
"Ooh," Satiria breathed, and a moment later,
"Kamro, I think he's taking us home!"
And so it appeared, for the creature was making
a beeline in the general direction of the deserted fairground, which was within
easy walking distance of their house. They would be able to get home from there,
even with the damage to Leah's foot.
Kamro's guess about their destination was right
on the mark, for as the lights of the fairground became visible the creature
began to fly lower; and when they got to within a hundred yards of the fairground's
border, it slipped beneath the canopy of the trees and alighted gently on the
ground, allowing Kamro and Satiria to slide to the ground before handing Leah
As he reached to support his injured sister,
Kamro looked up at the creature who had so unexpectedly snatched the child from
the very brink of death. It stared back, quietly meeting his gaze, and Kamro
was surprised to realize that its topaz eyes no longer seemed the least bit
strange or frightening. He wasn't staring at some twisted mutant animal- he
was gazing into the eyes of a friend. Kamro still didn't think it could interpret
words- but maybe it would understand tone of voice. "Thank you," he said, filling
his voice with all the gratitude that was welling up in his heart. "Thanks for
saving Leah and taking us home." The creature looked at him intently for a moment,
then turned its gaze to the Wocky, whose eyes had filled with tears when she
accidentally put too much weight on her injured ankle.
Then it astonished them all. "Leah," it echoed,
in a surprisingly normal voice; and reaching forward it brushed the child's
cheek with one long finger, removing a tear which had slipped from a glistening
azure eye. Don't cry, Leah, its eyes seemed to say; then keeping its gaze on
its little friend it took a step backward, as if allowing them to go.
Leah gave it a watery smile. "Bye," she whispered,
"and thanks for everything. We'll see you again soon, I hope." With that, she
lifted a tiny, delicate paw and waved, and Kamro and Satiria exchanged a glance
and a smile as the creature gave a tentative wave in return, as if it were trying
something entirely new.
Then the three siblings turned away and began
to head for home, often glancing over their shoulders as their strange new friend
continued to stand motionless, watching them in silence as they faded into the
darkness. Leah in particular felt a tug in her heart as it vanished altogether,
and as she hobbled along with the help of Kamro and Satiria she whispered sadly,
"I wish we didn't have to leave him alone. He's probably got nobody waiting
for him when he gets home. Maybe he doesn't even have a home."
The Zafara and the Cybunny glanced at each other,
and Kamro squeezed his youngest sister's shoulder and answered, "I hate to leave
him too, but I think he can take care of himself- and when your ankle's better
we'll see if we can find him again."
Leah shook her head. "I don't want to wait.
I wanna go and see him tomorrow. What if he gets caught in another trap?"
"I think that was probably a one-time thing,"
Satiria replied. "Most people who have stepped in a trap once take care for
the rest of their lives never to do it again. But even if he does get caught,
I know just the Neopet to get him out again."
Leah smiled softly, and the three children continued
on in silence, each lost in thought as they revisited their encounters with
the creature of the Haunted Woods.
Four days later, Arnold the Mynci frowned as
he watched a skipping Cybunny, a cheerfully grinning Zafara and a Wocky with
the slightest hint of a limp passing by his house. The Zafara had a picnic basket
slung over one of his narrow shoulders, and not one of the children looked as
if he or she had a single care in the world.
"You three seem to be out a lot, considering
what's going on," Arnold commented sourly. "That bat thing's still on the loose,
"I know," Leah answered blithely, "but I'm not
too worried about him."
"I don't suppose it was him who gave you that
limp?" Arnold asked, already suspecting the answer. Of course it wasn't- if
it had been that dreadful scaly monstrosity, then these silly children would
have had the sense to lock the doors of their Neohome and stay inside until
they heard that the creature had been captured.
"Nope, it wasn't. I just sprained it falling
It occurred to Arnold to be puzzled by the strange
transformation that had become visible in the formerly shy and quiet Wocky.
She was still soft and gentle, but she seemed far more confident than she had
in days past. It was as if she held some sort of secret that had her walking
"We'll be fine," Kamro assured him, his gleaming
teeth showing in an easy grin, and Arnold shook his head.
"You be careful, or you might just meet this
scaly slimeball and find out what it's really all about."
There was a slight frown on Leah's face in response
to the Mynci's words, but that strange hint of a secret still glimmered in her
eyes as she answered, "Don't worry, we'll be careful."
As the three children walked away, leaving an
unconvinced Arnold shaking his head in disgust, Kamro shifted the weight of
the basket to ease his tired shoulder. It was getting rather heavy, but he didn't
really mind. As had become their custom, the kids had packed an extra helping
along with their lunch… just in case a special guest showed up.