Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 135,120,763 Issue: 268 | 1st day of Celebrating, Y8
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One Last Song: Part Four


by mutedsanity

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"You're the guy from the Weapons Shop, I take it?"

     "Maril, representative of the Ice Crystal Shop, here to pick up today's shipment of weapons," the orange Lenny corrected, huffing indignantly.

     "Whatever, man." The Skeith snorted, spat over the railing of the ship (leaving Maril to scowl in disgust), and then hoisted a crate up off the deck and passed it down to the Lenny waiting to receive it on the ramp that connected them to the shore of Happy Valley. The boat rocked woozily in the icy water, and the crew was busy handing off various other shipments to shopkeepers, so Maril quickly gathered his crate full of icy weapons, snowballs, and various crystals, and stepped back, grumbling as he strained under the weight of the awkward box.

     He was not cut out for this job. He was a lanky, knobby Lenny with fluorescent orange feathers that stuck up in all the wrong places, oversized feet, and was constantly pushing a pair of large, circular glasses up to his eyes as they frequently slid down his beak. The Shoyru that ran the Ice Crystals Shop was a friend of his family, and as of late he had the unfortunate task of doing this job for some well-needed Neopoints. The Shoyru probably hired him as a favor, so he hadn't allowed himself any slip-ups for fear of giving her any more of an excuse to boot him out. He was no good at this job and he knew it. Getting the boxes from the ships every week and lugging them all the way up to the Ice Caves was hard work, and with only two scrawny wings to carry with, Maril was known to break his share of expensive items. Sometime he'd miscount the inventory or mess up prize tags, too, and he knew this couldn't go on forever.

     He couldn't let anyone down this time. So, hoisting the crate up with a groan, he turned and trudged determinedly toward the looming mountain. Happy Valley was sleepily awakening this crisp, early morning on the docks, and a lacework of pale blue sky was visible between the clouds. He couldn't help but think that this would be a good morning. So, after making sure his scarf was tightly around his neck (so he wouldn't trip over it again), Maril slowly made his way toward the Ice Caves.

           ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     The day was calm, nothing more than a frigid breeze now and then stirring up the powdery snow that blanketed the ground. The sky was fairly cloudy, and harsh daylight had to fight to filter through.

     Low on the mountain, having spent the night behind some boulders along the steep trail snaking down to Happy Valley, the Lupe stirred to greet the morning. He staggered onto his feet, shaking a layer of snowflakes that had gathered along his back off with a few quick shudders, clearing his deep brown fur. Yawning loudly, he stretched and then stood up straight, blinking brilliant yellow eyes to greet the morning.

     He was no longer a pup. He had grown into a slender, fit Lupe. If his mother were still with him, he would have fit all of her expectations. He had grown bigger than her, stronger and faster, with handsome features and a deceptively charming smile. He may be alone now, having lost one to an avalanche and the other to old age, but he had never forgotten what he had been taught and how he had been raised. He at least owed them that much. He was many things; but Radom had never been angry in his life. He looked in wonder at angry people, wonder and uneasiness, as normal people look at the insane.

     He still had the courage to smile. To grow, to learn. To live.

     And he welcomed each "today."

     Still, at the moment he couldn't help but remember those tales Evette used to tell him when he was a child, and wondered why none of the heroes in the stories were ever hungry. He hopped up onto one of the boulders, tilting his head at the valley waking up below him.

     He could hear the crunch of snow down the path, and perked his ears as he shifted his attention toward someone approaching. A faint smirk touched his lips at what he saw.

     An awkward orange Lenny staggered clumsily up the path, panting under the weight of a closed wooden crate. A pair of glasses teetered threateningly on the tip of his beak, and the scarf around his neck had come loose and now simply begged to be tripped over. And Radom was willing to bet that box was full of items-- items that he could sell to get himself some food.

     "Well, you're quite the picture," the Lupe spoke up, causing the Lenny to jump in surprise.

     "Wah!" Maril nearly jumped out of his skin, and winced as the crate hopped right out of his grasp and landed with a thud on the ground. He swiveled wildly and glared accusingly toward the voice, which he found belonged to a smirking Lupe perched atop a boulder above him.

     "Y-you shouldn't startle people like that!" he stammered, quickly pushing his glasses up with one wing.

     "Can't make any promises, mate," Radom replied casually, hopping off the boulder and onto the ground in front of Maril in one smooth motion. He padded in a close circle around the Lenny, eyeing the crate with a quirk of his brow. "What's in the box?"

     Maril frowned and stepped closer to it, watching him suspiciously. "I'm taking it to the Ice Caves and- what are you doing?"

     "I'm working." Radom had paused beside the crate and, before Maril could stop him, shoved the lid off with his front paws to reveal an assortment of delightfully expensive looking weapons.

     "H-Hey! Get away from there, you! It's my responsibility to bring those items safely back to the Ice Crystal Shop!" He scrambled toward Radom, but the Lupe was far quicker than he expected, as Maril found himself simply on top of the opened crate by the time Radom had hopped back several paces out of his reach. In between his teeth he held a bag full of various battle Snowflakes.

     Showing his fangs in a grin, Radom replied good-humoredly, "Well, I wish you the best of luck finding a new job, 'cause you're about to get fired."

     Maril flushed angrily. "Now hold on a minute! You can't just--"

     "Watch me." He winked at the flustered Lenny and then, before another word could be sputtered, turned and loped around a curve in the path.

     "HEY! GET BACK HERE!" Maril shrieked, scrambling to his feet in a panic. He tripped over his scarf several times before finally flailing wildly after Radom as fast as he could, spotting the Lupe far ahead of him slinking his way up the path.

     Radom's ears perked, he glanced over his shoulder, and when he spotted the Lenny at his tail, he simply laughed and sped up. "You'll never catch me!" he called, and with that, hopped up over some rocks and slipped off the path.

     "Oh no," Maril moaned, casting a flinching look over his shoulder, where the Ice Caves sat on the mountain in the opposite direction the Lupe was running. He had only stolen a few items, and the Lenny knew if he explained what had happened he wouldn't get in too much trouble, and the stock would be alright, but... but he couldn't just give up. Not now, when he had let himself down already. He wanted to prove that he could do something right. He had to...

     "I can't believe I'm doing this..." With a heavy sigh, he gathered his wits and scuttled up over the rocks, and took off after the thief as fast as his lanky legs would take him. This is your last chance, Maril...

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     This guy was either insane or Radom simply hadn't given him enough credit. Sure, the Lupe was keeping up an even jog and having no trouble at all while the Lenny was struggling to keep up, but the point remained, he hadn't given up yet. Hopping over boulders, taking shortcuts, running up steep, shaking portions of snow; the Lenny just kept following, no matter how long it took him to catch up, panting and stumbling like he was about to collapse, but running just the same.

     "Geez, they oughta give you a raise!" Radom called, laughing carelessly as he glanced back at his pursuer.

     "G-Give that b-back!" Maril wheezed breathlessly, wincing at a cramp in his side as he teetered along.

     Radom bounded up a steep slope in the mountain, leaving Maril to claw after him through the deep snow. "I've got all day," he said simply. He grinned in an almost baffled way at this Lenny's determination. He had guts, Radom had to hand him that. He looked like he'd never run a mile in his life, but he must be quite the employee, eh?

     Looking over his shoulder as he burst into a sprint again in an attempt to shake Maril, Radom didn't notice the abrupt drop ahead of him until he was nearly upon it. "Oops- that wouldn't have been pretty." He slowed and turned evenly, as nonchalant as ever, avoiding the steep, icy drop narrowly and continuing on.

     Maril, however, noticed it a little too late. He scrambled into view, looking around wildly for signs of Radom, and only noticed the cliff when he was just about to run headlong off of it. With a shout, he tried to scramble to a stop, but his oversized feet couldn't get a firm enough grip on the snow. He yelped and clawed at the ground with his wings, slowing himself down, almost stopping... but his scarf caught around his leg once again. Radom paused to glance back at the very moment Maril slid right off the cliff, just barely managing to grab hold of the ledge in time, dangling treacherously over the edge by his wings.

     Radom let out a bark of laughter. "Well, I see you're busy!" he called, his voice slightly muffled by the bag in his mouth. "Stay in touch!" He turned and padded over a mound of snow, taking this chance to escape, and only when he had cleared several yards did he pause to glance back again.

     Maril was still hanging over the edge, leaving Radom to wonder why he hadn't pulled himself up yet. But after a moment, he realized with a start that it was because he couldn't pull himself back up. He wasn't strong enough, and he was losing his grip fast. "Fly, you idiot," Radom murmured, his expression falling for the first time. He furrowed his eyebrows as he watched, but things weren't looking good. Maybe this guy couldn't even fly. His wings were pretty small, after all. And maybe he was just too afraid, too. Radom, of all people, knew that people didn't think straight when they were afraid. But this Lenny could die if he didn't get himself up fast.

     But now was Radom's one chance to get out of here. Selling these stolen weapons could feed him all week. His ears flicked back against his head as he glanced forward at the endless fields of snow sprawling out before him, knowing that running now would, in all probability, save him from starvation. He glanced back at the Lenny, whose muffled cries were faint below the wind.

     Radom's heart was pounding. His mind flashed back to that day when he was a puppy, when a group of snobby kids left him in the Ice Caves to save themselves some trouble. If Radom left now, he'd be no better than them. This guy was just doing his job. Radom got what he wanted... he had won, right?

     Courage.

     No. That would make him a coward. He had to do what he knew was right. He owed his mother that, above all else.

     Radom's conscience finally won, as before he even knew what he was doing, he had dropped the sack and sprinted back toward the edge of the cliff. At that moment, Maril's grip gave way, and Radom's heart just about leapt out of his chest. "NO!" He threw himself forward, seizing whatever he could.

     The weight nearly dragged him over the cliff. He clamped his jaw down on Maril's scarf, and the Lenny instinctively wrapped his wings around the Lupe's stopped neck as Radom heaved under the weight. He had nearly fallen as well, putting his life on the line for this stranger he had only moments ago been robbing. Every muscle in his body tensed as he hauled himself backwards, dragging Maril up onto solid ground once more and to safety. He let go when they were both several feet from the edge, and backed off a few paces, panting and stunned.

     It took Maril several seconds to catch his breath and for the full force of what had just happened to hit him. He scrambled up out of his sprawl on the ground and stared at Radom with eyes like saucers. "Y-you- you just saved my life!" he stammered breathlessly

     "Don't get used to it," Radom panted. "What, you couldn't see the cliff? It's huge! I saw it. But you? You were looking the other way." He shook his head, offering a weak smile. "You alright?"

     "Well-- yes--"

     "Might want to get a new scarf, buddy." He glanced at the now slightly ripped scarf that just barely dangled from around Maril's neck. After glancing him up and down, he gave a small, satisfied nod and turned to leave.

     "Wait!" The Lenny took a step after him, holding one wing out as if in protest.

     Pausing, Radom stopped and turned his head to look over his shoulder with nothing more than a raise of his eyebrows.

     "But you were just... trying to steal from me... and then you risked your life for me... why? Why would you save me?"

     "I was going to run off with those weapons and sell them so I could eat for a little while. But... Come on, I'm not that bad," Radom replied, shaking his head. "I'm not going to swap my life for yours. You keep the bag. Mine's not worth it if it endangers yours." He inclined his head toward where he had dropped the bag full of Ice Weapons in the snow. "So just take it and get out of here."

     But Maril only stared at him in shock. "Do... do you have any idea how serious this is?"

     "Do you have any idea how many times I've heard that?" His off-colored, sideways smirk was back.

     "You..." Maril trailed off, venturing a glance over his shoulder toward the edge of the cliff, and then back to Radom, his eyes still wide. "Thank you," he managed. "I'm obliged."

     "I'll bet you've never been obliged to anybody before, and I don't care to be the first. Just 'thank you' will do," Radom retorted, smirking quirkily.

     "That too." A tiny, slow-moving smile twitched across his beak, and oddly baffled sort of expression. He clearly didn't know what to think of this Lupe, but above all else was endlessly grateful.

     Radom's eyebrows arched briefly. "Well then. If we're all done jumping off cliffs here, I'll see ya later, Glasses." And with that, he looked ahead and started padding steadily away once more.

     "Wait! Wait, can't I make this up to you somehow?" Maril found himself stammering.

     "You could try."

     He took a few steps after his view of the Lupe's back. "Listen, I work for the Ice Crystal Shop and--"

     "So I've heard."

     "-And I'm sure the shopkeeper would give you a job if I told her you had saved me. I know it's not much, but at least it's a way to get some money."

     Radom paused. He only stole because he had to. But if he could work... "You don't say," he replied slowly, finally turning around to face Maril with a spark of interest. "You'd do that?"

     "Of course, it's the least I can do!"

     "Even after I took off with your stuff back there?"

     "Listen, Lupe, that's the first time anybody has ever made any kind of sacrifice for me, let alone a complete stranger, and I'm a fellow of morals, so you can at least humor me and allow me to make this up to you!" he exclaimed.

     "Radom."

     Maril paused. "I beg your pardon?"

     "Not 'Lupe.' My name's Radom."

     They stared at each other blankly for a moment, and then, as if pulled by some invisible strings, they both smiled faintly in unison. "I'm Maril."

     "Alright, Maril, you've got yourself a plan. Let's go meet this shopkeeper of yours."

     "Of course! It's this way!" The Lenny spun around, took a step forward, but suddenly stopped. "Or... was it this way...? Goodness, everything looks the same up here..." He turned back to Radom, smiling sheepishly.

     The Lupe let out a brief laugh. "Well, lucky for you, I know where we are."

     After picking up the bag of formerly stolen items off the ground, he nodded toward Radom. "Alright then, lead the way!"

     He took a step toward Radom, but paused again as the Lupe sized him up. "Ah, whoa, hey! How much money ya got on ya?" At Maril's stunned expression, Radom just laughed and winked before turning and starting off. "Just kidding. Keep up."

     Maril chuckled weakly and followed after him hastily.

     A swirl of snow danced around them, as if a reminder of how high on the mountain they were. It chilled the orange Lenny to the bone, but it was a potent reminder of how good it was to be alive. The world was full of unexpected people. He trailed in Radom's even pace, only looking up when the Lupe's voice was carried to him, warm against the bitter air.

     "Oh, and Maril?"

     "Yes?"

     Radom's ears flicked. "Thanks."

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     He watched the two from afar. The orange Lenny was staggering awkwardly through deep snow in the wake of the brown Lupe that had just saved his life. The Lupe's fur was rough and tousled from years of living on the peak of this brutal mountain. He was thin from hunger and wiry from the elements. But his eyes shone like candles through the endless snow. And he had his mother's mystifying smile.

     He was a thief. A street-roaming mutt. But the onlooker was not angry or disgusted or wary. He had watched the whole thing. And all he could feel was pride.

     The brown Lupe's ears twitched and he suddenly glanced up. He paused for a moment when he spotted the figure watching him from high on a hill of snow.

     The other stood tall, still, and hauntingly familiar. Their gazes met for but a moment. He nodded just once, and then had vanished into the flurry.

     Maril staggered to a halt when he noticed Radom ahead, staring off to the side. The Lenny followed his gaze curiously, but by the time he had looked over, the Desert Lupe was gone.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     From that day on, Radom stole very little. He worked for anyone who would give him a chance, and that number of people had increased since his brief but beneficial job working for the weapon's shop. He did all he could, no matter how menial the task, and often got food or some Neopoints out of it. But even if he received nothing, a small group of people came to know him solely for his good deeds. He helped people. And in return, those people could finally open their eyes and see him for who he truly was. Mind you, most of the town was not so accepting, but what few people there were showed Radom how right his mother had truly been all along. For sacrificing that money to feed him a week, Radom had earned food for months.

     He worked on and off when he was able. During a short slump of hunger that he was well used to, wandering high on Terror Mountain, just another day, he stumbled upon a stranger in the snow. He had spotted her from quite a distance, a heap of black clothing unconscious on the ground.

     Radom had trotted over to her and, to his shock, found himself staring at a pair of gangly wings. A Darkness Faerie.

     The creatures of evil in stories, of mistrust and cruelty. But, without a second thought, the Lupe had flopped down beside her and nestled close to keep her warm.

     Maybe she would wake up and curse him. Maybe she would hurt him or drive him away. Maybe she really was cruel and evil. Maybe he would regret this.

     But maybe not.

     After all... Maybe it couldn't hurt to listen to one last song.

The End

Author's note: Thank you all so much for reading my second series. I know it was gloomy, but I hope you all enjoyed it. Again, I really appreciate all of your feedback, and a big thanks to everyone who encouraged me to keep writing for Neopets. I hope there will be much more to come. This story, in turn, in for MY Mama. Like Kaiya, she taught me how to truly "listen." And what a gorgeous sound it is. ^__~

 
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Other Episodes


» One Last Song: Part One
» One Last Song: Part Two
» One Last Song: Part Three



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