Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 135,120,767 Issue: 264 | 3rd day of Storing, Y8
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Needed Adventure: Part Eleven


by tdyans

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Morning light was just creeping over the horizon, and the cold air sliced through even Dantam's thick winter coat of fur. But it was only this early in the day that he could find a quiet moment to himself. Soon the other junkyard pets would be awake and he would have responsibilities to tend to-- a day full of looking after the needs of others. Only in these early hours was he able to devote his thoughts to the pet who he most worried after, and the only one who he seemed unable to help in any way.

     He walked quietly out of the junkyard and came to the base of the familiar little knoll, only to look up and see that there was already someone else sitting at the top-- a slender brown Gelert with only one ear, who stared out expectantly toward the horizon as if waiting for someone to appear. Dantam sighed.

     "Your worrying spot seems to have been taken over."

     Dantam turned at the sound of the much loved voice to see Tessa approaching, commiseration in her gentle smile. She sat down beside him, leaning her muzzle against his shoulder.

     "Did I wake you?" he said, turning his gaze back up to the other Gelert on the hill. "I'm sorry."

     "Dantam," she said, soft laughter in her voice, "I'm used to you waking up every morning at the break of dawn, and I'm used to waking up at the same time. I follow you out here and watch you from a distance every morning. Don't try to tell me you didn't know."

     He smiled. "All right. I know you keep an eye on me--"

     "While you keep an eye out for Enzo."

     He flinched at his son's name and the smile fell from his face. Tessa was about to say something-- perhaps to apologize or soothe him-- but he quickly continued on with their conversation as if there had been no interruption. "But, as you said, you usually watch me from a distance. You don't normally join me...."

     "I know you like to be alone to think," she said. "But I thought that since your normal routine seems to have been disrupted, you might enjoy some company for once."

     Dantam smiled again. "Your company? Always."

     Tessa smiled back, then looked up at the Gelert on the hill. "And I'm guessing that Cambry likes to be alone to think as well. You may need to learn to share your worrying spot now that someone else has discovered its usefulness."

     Enzo scowled playfully at her second use of the name she'd come up with for the little hill. But his mood descended quickly again and he sighed, his ears drooping. "Where could he be, Tessa?"

     "I don't know," she answered honestly. It was the only reply she could give. She nuzzled his neck, trying to comfort him, as well as herself.

     "It's been months since Cambry and the other pets from the lab arrived--"

     "And months as well since all reports confirmed that no lives were lost in the fire," Cambry said, cutting off a negative line of thought.

     "Yes, but where could he be?"

     "I don't know, Dantam," she said again. "But he's out there somewhere. You know he is. And worrying about him won't do him or us any good-- but hoping for him might."

     Dantam sighed and smiled, turning to touch his nose to hers. "How is it you always know the right thing to say?"

     Tessa just laughed. "You're welcome."

     Together they turned and headed back toward the junkyard, leaving Cambry still sitting on the hill, alone with her thoughts. The other pets would be waking up and preparing for the day and might need their help with any number of things.

     "Anyway," Tessa said, "Whooter is still watching after him, at least. I'm sure they found a safe, warm place to stay the winter...."

     ***

     "WAHOOOOO!"

     Enzo leaped through the snow, sending it flying, as he did his best to keep up with the pack of wild pets. He had no idea where they were going, but they had all set out this morning, barreling through the snow as fast as they could, rough and tumble. Whatever hidden signal it was that had gotten all of them so excited at once, Enzo was happy to follow along and enjoy the ride, blissfully ignoring Whooter's protests as the petpet struggled to fly after them.

     It felt wonderful just to stretch his legs. It had been a harsh winter, making excursions outside the cave few and far between-- and generally unpleasant when they did happen.

     They came to a stop finally on the bank of a river. The wild pets crowded the bank, shouldering and shoving to get at the cold water and satisfy their thirsts. Enzo stood back a ways, panting and thirsty, but thinking it better to wait until the others' frenzied rush to the water had subsided. Whooter fluttered weakly up, panting heavily himself, and dropped to the ground beside Enzo's paws. Enzo ignored his glare.

     "Look at that, Whooter. The river's running again. It was frozen just like the lake last time we passed by this way."

     Still catching his breath, the whoot could utter little more than a "Hm" in assent.

     "The snow's a lot patchier, too. And slushy. Melting."

     Whooter sat up. "Yes, it appears spring is on its way in," he said. "Finally."

     "Spring...." Enzo stared off at nothing. "Almost a year, then," he said. "Since I left home."

     Whooter looked up at the Gelert, trying to discern his mood or what memory or idea that far off look in his eyes was aimed at.

     A cacophony of cries, growls and roars interrupted their contemplative moment, though. The pair looked over to where several of the wild pets were now gathered around the base of a tree that stood on the edge of the river. Usul had climbed about halfway up the tree, and the other pets, having now noticed her secret endeavor, were voicing their outrage from below, while she chattered angrily back down at them. And a few of them, with Scorchio in the lead, were trying to climb up after her. The apparent object of their quarrel sat at the end of a branch near the top of the tree: a single, tiny acorn.

     Whooter sighed. "Well, it seems the concept of sharing still hasn't quite caught on."

     "Mmm," Enzo agreed, "But I can't really blame them this time. Acorns aren't like fire-- one can't very well be shared."

     "True," the whoot conceded.

     "After living with them for a season, I can understand why they live the way they do, ya know? Everything's so scarce around here, and it takes every little bit you can get just to survive. It's no wonder it's every pet for himself. They can't afford to care about anyone else." As if to punctuate his point, the Gelert's stomach gave a loud growl.

     "True again," Whooter said with a chuckle. "You know, Enzo, I could probably fly right up there and beat the lot of them to that acorn...."

     "Why Whooter!" Enzo laughed. "How positively uncivilized of you!" Still, he couldn't keep a certain amount of longing from his gaze as he watched the little acorn bob and bounce with the shaking of the tree from the wild pets' efforts to claim the high-up prize.

      Enzo's mind wandered as he watched Usul chatter angrily down at Scorchio and Scorchio growl back up at her as they chased each other up the tree, the large Scorchio moving much more clumsily than the nimble Usul, but determined not to let her get the acorn for herself without a fight. He was used to their squabbling by now-- and there seemed to be a special animosity between those two in particular-- and as he'd said to Whooter, he understood it well enough by now as well. And yet... Scorchio had saved him those few months back from drowning, and he still could not puzzle out why. He couldn't see that he'd been any sort of benefit to the other Neopet, nor that Scorchio could have thought that he would be. So why would a Neopet who spent most of his time watching out only for himself have saved another's life?

      His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden shriek from above-- not a shriek of anger but one of fear. His gaze shot upward again. Usul had reached the branch from which the acorn hung-- and was now dangling from the end of it herself. Enzo couldn't understand at first what had happened, until he looked at where the branch joined to the tree's trunk. It had cracked beneath her weight, throwing her off balance, and it appeared that it would splinter the rest of the way and fall from the tree at any moment.

     Scorchio was clinging to the trunk just below the branch and reaching out one arm toward the dangling Usul, all malice suddenly replaced with concern. Usul swung precariously from the end of the branch, reaching out one of her paws to try to catch his, but she was too far away. He stretched out as far as he safely could without losing his grip on the tree trunk and she made one more desperate swing toward his offered claw, but as she did so, the base of the branch gave one final crack and she went tumbling down with it-- straight into the river's swirling waters.

      A startled silence fell over the crowd of Neopets for a second that seemed to stretch on for hours. And then Usul's head broke above the surface of the water, and they broke into a flurry of noise and activity. Usul gave a strangled cry, flailing her paws until she caught hold of a rock that jutted up from the center of the river and held fast. But the water's current, freed from its winter imprisonment and fed by the melting snow, was too strong for her to be able to hold on for long. Scorchio slid down the tree and dashed toward the river's edge, reaching his arm out toward Usul again, but the effort was fruitless-- she was too far out for anyone to reach. And anyone who would swim out after her was more likely to end up in trouble himself than to do her any good. The other pets gathered around him on the muddy bank and chattered with anxious and terrified excitement.

      Enzo pushed his way through the noisy crowd, stopping beside Scorchio to look out at where Usul clung tenaciously to the rock. He struggled to block out the sounds of the others and think.

      "Listen," he said, turning to face them. They continued their chattering.

     "Listen!" he shouted, and finally they all fell silent and looked at him expectantly. "Listen to me. We have to work together, do you understand?" He looked from face to face with dismay. They didn't understand. Whooter had done his best to "civilize" them, but their vocabularies were still rudimentary at best. How could he explain to them what needed to be done? "We have to...." He floundered, casting about desperately for the right words. "If we're going to save Usul, we--"

     "Yes, yes," Scorchio said suddenly, standing up beside him. "Save Usul!" He turned pleading eyes to the Gelert. "Please save Usul, Enzo."

     Enzo could only nod, placing a paw on the distraught Scorchio's shoulder. "I will. We will." He paused, still searching for the words. "Just... try to follow what I do, okay?"

     Scorchio nodded hurriedly, though Enzo still wasn't sure how much he'd understood. Still, it was the best that he could hope for; the Scorchio was at least anxious to help, and hopefully the others would follow his lead. Enzo turned back toward Usul, walking up to the water's edge. He hesitated, his heart speeding up as he stared down at the rushing water and felt the cold spray hit his legs. His mind raced back to the too-recent memory of falling into the lake, the bite and then numb of the icy water, the terror of not being able to pull himself out....

     He pushed the memory away and stepped into the water, clenching his teeth against the cold. He took several more steps until he stood with all four paws in the river. "Scorchio," he said, "hold onto my tail." He waved his tail to make sure that Scorchio understood the direction and felt the other Neopet grab hold. He looked back; Scorchio's expression was a mixture of confusion and trust. Enzo offered him a reassuring smile and took a few more steps forward until the water level was almost at his chest. "Hold on tight."

     He looked back over his shoulder as he heard Scorchio's large feet splash into the water. A look of understanding suddenly dawned on Scorchio's face, and he turned toward the other pets who stood huddled behind him on the bank, grunting at them in their peculiar language and waving his thick tail. The others looked at each other, mumbling uncertainly at whatever Scorchio had said to them, but finally a Blumaroo stepped forward, gave a strong grunt and grabbed hold of Scorchio's tail. It seemed that his assertiveness was all that the others had needed to spur them into action, for they soon lined up as well, each pet holding tightly to the tail of the pet in front of him.

     Once their line was long enough, Enzo turned back toward the river, trying to keep his eyes fixed on Usul instead of the cold water that swirled angrily around her. He swallowed back his fear, stuck his chin up, and took another step forward. This time his paw did not touch back down on the river bed. With the unexpected loss of any foothold, he found himself swept downstream by the current and for a moment panic rose up in his throat. But the moment ended quickly, as he felt a strong pull on his tail and his movement through the water came to an abrupt stop. He turned his head to look back at Scorchio's smiling face and let out a sigh of relief. "All right," he said to himself, "time to swim."

     He paddled his front paws, wheeling back around against the current, holding his muzzle out of the water and trying to ignore the icy spray that flew at his face. Slowly but surely he made his way out to the center of the river, supported and secured by the chain of pets behind him, some swimming as he was, some standing in the water, and some standing on the bank.

     Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Enzo reached the rock to which Usul clung. "Usul--" he struggled to speak through the effort of keeping himself afloat. But Usul, looking wet and frazzled, needed no direction. Before he could get another word out, she had leapt from the rock onto his head, then onto Scorchio's head, and on down the line of pets until finally she reached the bank and safety.

     A sense of relief enveloped Enzo as he and the others were pulled slowly back in toward the bank themselves. He shook himself furiously when he finally reached the shore, and marveled at how good the solid ground felt under his paws. He laughed as he watched Scorchio scoop Usul up off of the ground and into a crushing hug; the Usul chattered at him and tried to bat him away, but the effort was only half-hearted. Enzo looked up at Whooter as the petpet alighted atop his head. "Huh," the Gelert said with a grin, "and all this time I thought they didn't like each other."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Adventure: Part One
» Needed Adventure: Part Two
» Needed Adventure: Part Three
» Needed Adventure: Part Four
» Needed Adventure: Part Five
» Needed Adventure: Part Six
» Needed Adventure: Part Seven
» Needed Adventure: Part Eight
» Needed Adventure: Part Nine
» Needed Adventure: Part Ten
» Needed Adventure: Part Twelve



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