Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 135,120,767 Issue: 265 | 10th day of Storing, Y8
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One Last Song: Part One


by mutedsanity

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Author's note: If you haven't read my first series, "The Price of Faith," I highly suggest you do so before you read this one, to better understand it. This is a prequel to Radom and Pandora's first adventure, and I hope you'll all enjoy learning about our heroic friend when he was young, in a series of short stories on how he came to be the way he is now. This is Radom's tale.

"Mama?"

     "Yes, love?"

     "I'm hungry."

     "I know, Radom. I am too. But we'll find something. We always do, don't we?"

     "But everyone down in Happy Valley has an owner to feed them. How come we don't live with a human too, Mama?"

     "That's just the way it is, I'm afraid. Not everyone can be fortunate. We just have it a little tougher than everybody else, but that doesn't mean--"

     "But we're street rats!"

     "Radomik! Don't you say that! What in the world put something like that in your head?"

     "But everybody else says it! That's what they called us--"

     "Well, from now on, it'll be everybody less one."

     "But Mama, don't they bother you too? Everyone else is so mean to us, and it's 'cause we don't have a house or an owner or anything good!"

     "Honey, money means nothing. We may not have all that, but you know what? We have something even better, I think."

     "Like what?"

     "Well… we have each other."

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     Kaiya would be quite beautiful, if only she was allowed that privilege. Her fur was the color of a crimson tulip nodding in the summer sun, but had become muffled and dirty from never having seen a brush, snarled and sticking up in places. She was a petite Lupe, graceful and as smooth in motion as a dancer, but perhaps would be even more elegant if she wasn't so thin from lack of food, or so well-built from constant physical action. Although slightly rough in feature due to living high on the rugged terrain of Terror Mountain, her bushy tail was known to wag, and she had a beautiful smile that illuminated her face from within. And her eyes, a shade of such dazzling indigo they could put the very flowers to shame, were always alive and bright in their own radiance. To the rest of society, she was looked down upon, a wild Lupe with no money, home, or owner, who sometimes had to resort to stealing to keep herself alive. But to her son, she was a champion. The greatest being in Neopia.

     And with each light step across the snow, his small paws stepped in each of her paw prints close behind. He was just a pup, at that stage in his young life where he was composed chiefly of ears and legs, a lanky, clumsy mass with the unique ability to trip over himself and under-calculate his own strength or just where his feet could go. He was getting bigger all the time, but still had to trot to keep up with his mother's even pace now, and had no idea what their strength comparison may be, for he would more readily throw himself off the mountain than spoil a hair on her head.

     He was awkward now, but Kaiya had faith that he would grow into a handsome Lupe. He'd be bigger than her someday, and possibly stronger and faster, but that day was a long way off now. Unlike his mother, the puppy's fur was, in various tones, the color of rich chocolate, and while her fur was rough, his was soft and downy. But he had her brilliant smile, and soon he would master this mountain just as well as she had, gliding along smoothly and without difficulty. His eyes, as yellow as fall leaves, were already tawny and sharp, eager and alert. To society, he too was at the bottom of the ladder, a mixed mutt with no future or life to speak of. But, to his mother, Radomik was life.

     The unusual pair made their way down the sloping frame of Terror Mountain, snaking down to the valley below them. After all, food couldn't be expected to grow on the merciless peak in unyielding blizzards and ice, and often Happy Valley was the only place one could seek out some rations. Although it was clear Kaiya hated the task of stealing what they needed, what other choice did they have? It was for her son, not her. She'd starve to death before she allowed her child to go hungry.

     "Maaaa-maaa," the young Lupe whined, "I don't want to go to the valley!"

     Kaiya just smiled patiently, glancing back at him as they made their way down. "But then how else are we going to get something to eat?"

     "I don't know, but everyone down there is so mean!"

     "That's no excuse."

     "But they call me names and say bad things about you and say 'hey, mutt,' like that, and I don't like it! They don't even help us; they make it hard instead! Isn't it okay to hate them?"

     Her brow knitted slightly. "It is not. It's not okay to hate anybody."

     "But they have money and owners and still--"

     "Radom, it doesn't matter who or what they are, what they do or say; they are still people, and you will treat them as such. It's a crime to hate."

     That was the only time in his life Radom ever heard her say it was a crime to do anything, so he took it to heart. "Oh." He frowned and looked at the ground, his ears flicking back as he saw the town coming into view out of the corner of his eyes. "Sorry, Mama."

     She failed to suppress a smile. "That's alright, love."

     He fell quietly into her tracks once more, trailing after her as they wound into the outskirts of Happy Valley, the tight-packed snow underfoot turning into fluffy flakes; the previously barren white landscape now freckled with small, warm huts with gently smoking chimneys, and pets bundled in warm clothing bustled about everywhere. The same old sight, shops galore, and a small cave carved into the side of the mountain on the far outskirts their usual first stop.

     He knew the drill. Radom padded into the rocky hole, out of the lightly falling snow, but turned to look back out at his mother. "How come I can't go with you?"

     "You know why. I can't have you getting hurt." Kaiya always left Radom in a safe, secluded place nearby while she went out and got them food, unwilling to endanger him in her sometimes risky stealing, if all else failed. "You just wait here, and I'll be back soon, alright?" And without waiting for his protests, the Red Lupe turned and trotted away from the mouth of the cave and out of sight.

     Sighing dejectedly, Radom flopped down on the cold stone floor and rested his head on his front paws. Snow dusted his brown fur, and outside he had a view of smooth white ground external of the main bustle of shops and houses, with the frozen pond in sight. Not much to see. He never got to do anything (or so he thought, while glowering accusingly at the rocky cave wall).

     A cold gust of wind swept across the area, stirring the snow-blanketed bushes in one long, chilly sigh. Radom's ears perked as something else was carried to him by the breeze. Voices. He lifted his head just in time to see a bright red ball bounce over the hill and roll onto level ground, stopping to sit harmlessly alone in the middle of the snow right outside the cave. He could hear a group of children just out of sight from where he lay, clearly looking for their toy that had been thrown too far.

      "You kicked it too hard, dummy."

     "Aw, shut up."

     "I think it went this way!"

     Radom went rigid. What if they saw him? What if--? He shook his head, coming to the conclusion that after what his mother had said, he should at least give them another chance. She had told him to stay put, but… Oh! Maybe they'd even let him play with them! With this in mind, he leapt onto his feet, his tail swishing behind him as he shot out of the safety of his little cave without a second thought.

     Bounding out into the open, he bowed his head to snatch the ball off the ground without so much as a pause, and went scampering over the hill to greet what he imagined would be grateful faces ready to receive the savior of their beloved toy. "Hey, I found your ball!" he called, but slowed to a rather sudden stop when the group appeared in front of him.

     Framed by the colorful town well behind them, a cluster of six young Neopets had stopped dead in their searching when they saw him. In unison, they all looked at a stocky purple Yurble in their midst. They were all dead silent for a moment, Radom's tail slowly drooping. The Yurble, apparently the designated leader, was the first to speak up.

     "What d'you think you're doing?!" he spat, glaring daggers at Radom with eyes like black ink.

     The brown Lupe tried to speak, his eyes widening, but only made a muffled sound through the ball in his teeth.

     "Ewww!" a speckled Acara burst out. "He's touching my toy!"

     "Give it back, thief!" the Yurble snarled, starting toward Radom.

     Startled, he dropped the ball and staggered away a few paces. "But I didn't! I was just bringing it back to you! I found it and I just wanted to--"

     "Don't get near my stuff ever again!" The Acara had rushed forward just long enough to snatch her ball up, wrinkle her nose in disgust, and then retreat back among her friends once again.

     "Well-I was just trying to--" Radom stared around in surprise, his spirits sinking when he was greeted by stony expressions on all sides. "I… I'm sorry…"

     After scoffing, a blue Kacheek went to sizing the Lupe up tentatively. "Hey, isn't he the kid of that Lupe who stole from your dad once, Dace?" he contributed uncertainly, glancing at the Yurble.

     The alleged Dace flustered at once. "I knew it! She stole some fruit from us, so my mom couldn't make more smoothies, so I didn't get to have one! It's your fault!"

     "What?! My mama stole that because we were starving!"

     "Why the heck should I care?" he huffed.

     Radom could feel his eyes narrow as he swung from fear to resentment. "All you guys care about is yourselves! How can you be so selfish?" They were starving, and all this kid cared about was a smoothie?

     "We are not! You're just jealous that we're better than you! Because your fur is an ugly color and you don't have any toys," the Acara snapped, although whether it was an accusation or a brag was hard to say, for she smiled in a self-satisfied way as she held her red ball close against her lovely speckled fur. "And you're just a mutt! A silly, cowardly little street urchin, that's what my mother said!"

     Radom could feel his fur bristle as he tensed. See, he was right all along. It wasn't wrong to hate people like this! "What does she know?! I'll bet none of you have ever done anything brave or hard in your whole lives!"

     Clearly feeling challenged, Dace stood tall and glared down at him. "Have too!"

     "Uh-huh, like what?" Radom retorted.

     The Yurble paused. The corner of his mouth twitched downward, and he glanced back at his friends for support. The green Mynci and yellow Grarrl behind him shrugged helplessly, and their remaining friend, a Christmas Bori, cleared his throat and looked away.

     Radom raised his eyebrows victoriously. "See, you can't even think of one thing." Feeling a bit bolder at his moment of triumph, he added without thinking, "I'm not a coward, but I don't know about you!"

     But he regretted this choice of words almost immediately. All six of the other pets froze and looked at Radom. Well, it wasn't so much a look as a laser. Radom's ears slowly lowered, and the other children could just about cause the spring thaw with their glowers alone, leaving the Lupe to wonder just how much shunning would be dealt for his audacity to question their leader.

     "I am NOT a coward!" Dace burst out, and Radom half expected laser beams to fire from his eyes. "And if you're not, why don't you prove it?!" Before Radom could open his mouth in response, the Yurble pressed on. "And just talk won't get you anywhere! You have to show me you're not cowardly or I'll never believe it!"

     "Well, how do I do that?"

     "You have to--" Dace did some quick thinking, as after only a moment's pause a twisted little smile wiggled across his face. Radom didn't like that expression at all. "You have to go into the Snowager's Cave and come out with something."

     "Like your first toy," the Acara muttered haughtily.

     The Christmas Bori was quick to nod in agreement. "That's right, or else you're just a scaredy Aisha!"

     Severely outnumbered, Radom found himself facing a wall of smug Neopets, with paws on their hips and scoffing faces, eyes glimmering with the challenge. "I--" he hesitated nervously, remembering how his mother had always told him to stay away from that cave, because it was too dangerous. It was just to keep him safe, she had said.

     "Ooooh," the chanting begun, "Mutt's a scaredy-Aisha!"

     "I knew it!"

     "That's why his mother has to do everything for him!"

     "Gosh, mutt, can't you even help your own mom out by yourself?"

     "He's too scared! Ha ha!"

     "I am not!" Radom barked suddenly. "I can do that, easy!"

     Dace grinned impishly. "Then prove it."

     Frowning sullenly, Radom knew that his mouth was several steps ahead of his brain all too often, but there was no turning back now. "Alright, I will!"

     "Then let's go. We'll all want to see this one."

     Gesturing for his crew to follow him, the purple Yurble turned and started toward the pathway up Terror Mountain, smirking smugly. "Come on, mutt. If you don't back out first."

     Snorting, Radom quickly followed, falling in among this unlikely group as they all made their way toward the Ice Caves set jaggedly in the mountainside above them. He didn't look back at his safe little cave behind where he was supposed to be waiting, although each step that brought him further away from it made his heart drum just a little faster.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     A snow flurry that gusted over had left all of their fur speckled with white, and most of the group was panting and tired by the time they had hiked up to the Ice Caves. All aside from Radom, who was well used to constantly moving through the snow that he hadn't slowed down once, and now found himself standing in the Ice Caves, away from where most people were and standing right outside the Snowager's Cave. Although underfoot there was nothing but sleek ice, and all around were glimmering icy walls, and snow clung to his thick pelt, Radom didn't think it was the cold that was making him shiver now.

     "Alright. Let's see you do it," Dace uttered, although his voice had become no more than a whisper now, and all of his friends hung back several yards and stared on with wide eyes. "If you want to get yourself killed, all you have to do is walk in there!"

     Radom had to take a deep breath before he could muster another testing glare. But apparently he loved honor more than his head, for he padded straight into the looming cave. His confidence was short-lived, however, as at the sound of even breathing he slowed his pace cautiously and kept low, his ears and tail back and wide yellow eyes scanning the dark cave.

     Through the inky black, he could see the towering shape of the Snowager coiled around his pile of treasures, sleeping quietly. Radom winced at each step, feeling every light click of his paws against the ice was far too loud, and that his heartbeat must be reverberating off the walls at that moment.

     But the monster was asleep, so all he had to do was grab something and run. It wouldn't be so hard. Or so he told himself. Why, if his mother could be sneaky, so could he. But the last thing he needed to be at this moment was cocky, and that's just where he was headed with each step.

     He was close now. So close. He could see the outline getting bigger and bigger, make out the shapes of various plushies and junk items, feel the serpent's frosty breath ruffle his fur and chill him to the bone. Closer… closer…

     There! Radom stretched out his neck and picked up the first thing he could reach, and found a Yellow Scorchio Plushie hanging from his mouth. His heart skittering, his ears perked up and he turned to look over his shoulder at the yawning entrance to the cave, where he could see the forms of the other kids staring on motionlessly. Feeling as though he had proven his merits, Radom grinned at their gaping faces. They didn't think he could do it, but they were wrong, and he sure showed them!

     He took a step forward, but suddenly, Dace and his group staggered back. Radom paused, but the others had scrambled over one another before he could make another move, and with hardly enough time to blink, all six of them had sprinted away and out of sight. What in the world…? He took another step-- Click. Groan.-- but froze suddenly at the noise behind him.

     He whirled around suddenly, his eyes growing huge, but found that he was no longer staring at the sleeping serpent. Now, it was raised up as though ready to strike, a low rumbling issuing through the shimmering ice. And its eyes were right on Radom.

     Still clamping the Plushie firmly in his mouth, Radom let out a muffled scream and reeled around, making a wild dash for the exit. But at that moment the Snowager let out an earth-shaking roar, and Radom could feel a massive blast of cold air nearly bowl him over, and realized with horror that shards of ice went plummeting into the wall ahead of him from behind.

     He staggered, his claws scuffing the ice as he wildly tried to maintain his balance while running, but he found they gave way and sent him spinning across the ice. More blasts of snow hurtled past him, but this time, he couldn't get out of the way. The sounds of his shrieks were drowned out by the bellow of the beast, and just as his vision was becoming packed with nothing but a flurry of white overtaking his little body, he could have sworn he saw a flicker of red somewhere in the muddle.

     And then everything went black.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     "Radom! Radom, wake up! Come on, baby, please… R-Radom?"

     The Lupe pup moaned and blinked back into his fuzzy world. It took him several seconds to orient himself enough to realize that he was in a shallow cave, lying on a rocky floor safe from a blizzard howling just outside, so that he could see nothing but white past the mouth of the cave. The face of a red Lupe came into focus directly above him.

     "Mama!" He tried to stand, but found himself slumping back down as his legs gave way. His head throbbed tremendously. "Owww…"

     Kaiya's face lit up with relief, but just like that, it had flickered out into a stirring mixture of fear and anger. "Radomik! What could have possibly possessed you to do something like that?! When I came back to get you and found you missing, can you possibly imagine how worried I was? And then I find you- Fyora help me- in the Snowager's Cave!"

     "But I--"

     "Radomik, you could have died! What would you have done if I hadn't shown up at that very moment?! You could have gotten me killed as well! Now you're hurt- and you stay down, Fyora help you- and I just barely got us back here in one piece! And it could have been far worse, I'll have you know! The food just barely made it, and you could have been killed for a- for some toy!" She shot an accusing glare at the corner of the cave, where the plushie he had retrieved sat harmlessly, a sewn-on smile greeting her furious scowl.

     "Mama, I--"

     "I told you to stay put! You disobeyed me and put yourself in very real danger! How can I trust you if you do something like that? How can I ever know you're safe? How can I even let you out of my sight if you--"

     "Mama, listen!" Radom choked, his wide eyes glistening with unshed tears. "It was those other kids! They- they were making fun of me again, and you, and they called me a coward! I tried to talk, like you told me, but they wouldn't listen! They said I was a coward who could never help you if I couldn't prove I was brave! So I went in there to get something from the Snowager, like they told me, to prove it, and- b-but Mama, they were right! I'm not brave! I just wanted to help you, but I'll never be brave like you!" His voice hitched, and his eyes blurred with tears as they began burning hot trails down his cheeks.

     Kaiya's face suddenly softened, and she slowly sat down in front of her son, looking down at him almost sadly. "Radom… honey, that's not what being brave is about… Everybody gets scared, including me, especially today when I thought I might lose you. Nothing could be scarier in the whole world. It's when you're scared and still do it anyway, that's brave. But not just something like that… Honey, you don't need to prove yourself to those people. They don't know you. It doesn't matter what they say, and you know it. You know better than to listen to them, and what you did was not brave, it was a pointless threat on your safety." She shook her head slowly, her voice stern but her eyes endlessly gentle. "I was scared when I saw you in that cave. But I wasn't afraid when I ran in there myself to save you. As long as you would be safe, I would do anything. Anything. You got hurt, Radom, and you'll be alright. But that scares me. I can think of nothing more terrifying than the possibility of losing you."

     He bit back a sob at the prospect of frightening his mother so much, all over him. "B-but I want to be b-brave too!"

     "Radom, we learn from our mistakes. And if you have learned nothing else, know this: Real courage is not the ability to do something dangerous, to put your life on the line, or even to do something frightening. Sometimes it takes real courage to do what's right, not what's easy or what is asked of you. It's seeing things through no matter what, even if it seems you can't possibly win. Going into that cave was not brave. Standing up to those children, not listening to a word they said, believing what you know in your heart and not what some nasty stranger tells you, and doing what's right no matter what... Now that's what courage is. Sometimes it's harder than it sounds, and people will be unkind to you for it now and then, but that's what it takes to be brave."

     Radom stared at his paws, his ears back as he listened to her, knowing she was right. He blinked back his tears and whispered, "I'm sorry, Mama…" How could he have frightened her and gone against her like that? He knew she was right. She always was.

     "You hold your head up. That's no crime. I just want you to understand all that, alright?" Kaiya said softly, bowing her head to be around his level.

     Nodding slowly, he looked up at her, his amber eyes meeting her indigo ones. She smiled gently and nuzzled her face against Radom. "I'm just glad you're safe."

     He sniffled and scooted closer, resting his head against her front leg and closing his eyes as he nestled close. "You said it wasn't okay to hate anybody. But how come, Mama? Even bad people like them?" he asked softly.

     "They're not bad, Radom. Nobody is truly bad. We all have different reasons, thoughts, and feelings, but none of us are bad. Just because someone is different than you doesn't make them wrong. That's why it's not fair to hate anybody. We're all people, honey, no matter how different we may be, and nobody wants to be hated."

     "Oh... I guess… I guess even Dace has friends and a family that he cares about, huh?"

     "That's exactly right. See, everybody loves as well, even if you can't see it."

     "I guess… they're good, too…"

     "Most people are." Kaiya smiled gently, lowering herself to lie on the stone floor, and Radom cuddled up at her side. "Radom, let me tell you something. And I never want you to forget it. Never. Can you do that for me?"

     He looked up, nodding enthusiastically with his important task. "Uh-huh."

     "Everybody has a song inside of them. I truly believe that. We all have different voices and sing different words, but in every last living creature in Neopia is a song. I think all of these songs are beautiful, Radom, although some people don't let you hear it, or keep it from you, or don't let it free. But it's there just the same, and I think all songs are beautiful, once you finally hear them. You just have to listen, Radom."

     "I want you to always do that for me." She lowered her head and rested it beside him, closing her eyes gently. "Just… listen."

To be continued…

 
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