The faerie Acara fluttered primly past the baker's shop
next door, running a haughty eye over the homely bread and cakes. She saluted
the clouds with her nose, to put it eloquently - or rather, the sun, seeing there
is no cloud higher than Faerieland, which was where I was.
Then she passed by the petpet shop, pausing to
look inside the window with a marginal degree of interest.
I widened my already-huge cornflower-blue eyes,
hid my fangs behind my lips, stood up on my hind legs, fluttered my wings slightly
and cocked my head to one side. The Acara's own eyes widened and she cooed,
"Oh, aren't you just adorable! Mother, can I have it? Please?"
The Acara's owner shook her head with something
that could only be accepted as a kindly smile by the widest stretch of imagination.
"Better not, dear," she said strictly. "Trumpet lesson."
"But please, mum?" she said. "He's so cuuute..."
She pushed her snobby nose right up to the window.
This was what I had been waiting for. I narrowed
my eyes to threatening slits, spread out my wings to look more imposing, thumped
back onto the ground, butted the glass with my horns, and roared!
Well, squeaked. It's hard to roar when you weigh
about as much as the average bag of flour.
It worked anyway. The faerie Acara screamed and
fell backwards so heavily that she broke through the cloud and fell through.
When she emerged she was dripping with condensation. Her owner shrieked just
as shrilly and dragged her away by the wet paw. I sat back, satisfied.
I'm still adorable, right?
I poked at the unrecognizable gloop in my plate
listlessly. Scaring the pampered Acara had been fun, but it probably wasn't
wise. She'd spread the word around that this shop was to be avoided, and we'd
get even fewer customers than we did already. Not that it made much difference
to me. For some unfathomable reason, nobody wanted to adopt a stubby-winged
white gallion so far from Meridell. Besides which, if any prospective owners
came by the shop, I scared them off pretty easily. Which, when you think about,
wasn't a good idea.
I heard padded footsteps beside me. I didn't
Carpenter, Carpenter, what am I going to do
with you? Sharden said with a sigh.
I don't know what you mean, I said innocently.
Don't be obtuse. You do know what I mean,
Carr, and don't try the innocent eyes with me - they won't work.
I looked up. So I scare off the occasional
customer, Shard. What difference does it make? Would you really want to be adopted
by someone like that?
No, I wouldn't, but I imagine quite a few
of the others would, and we need all the money we can get. You know that.
I gazed out through the glass window. We could
just make a break for it, I hazarded. Fly back to Meridell.
Why? Shard snorted. The gallion clans
banished us. Besides, we owe Andy.
She had a point there and I knew it. Yes.
We were quiet for some time. Outside, a Faerie tripped over and looked around
furtively to see if anyone had noticed her moment of ungainly clumsiness.
Andy, a faerie Kacheek, walked up the aisle towards
us. He leaned over and lifted up my untouched plate of food with a sad smile.
"Carpenter, I know this isn't great, but it's
the best we can afford."
Then we can't afford very much, can we?
Andy had no answer to that because, of course,
he couldn't hear me. Neopets seldom could.
"Just hang in there, old buddy, things have to
get worse before they get better."
But sometimes, they don't get better.
Do you have to always be so pessimistic? Shard
It's my job.
I returned to watching the window, in the futile
hope that one day, somehow, the ideal owner would appear out of the blue and
solve all of our problems.
I was still watching two hours later when I spotted
two specks in the distance. After a few moments they morphed into dots. Then
they showed every sign of becoming blobs, and finally, as they came closer,
I saw they were two pets arguing fiercely.
One of them I recognized as a Korbat, but the
other I couldn't identify. His webbed hands and feet and finned tail made me
think he was aquatic somehow. His limbs were long and gangly. He had a row of
finned spines running down his back that lay flat against his skin, and a fin
on either side of his head. His skin was smooth and white, though striped with
vibrant bands of purple and orange that attracted a lot of nasty looks from
calm pastel-loving Faeries.
Altogether he should have been as awkward and
ungainly as Dr Death at a charity concert, but he moved gracefully with an air
of unbeatable self-confidence. But it was they eyes that caught my attention:
serene, secretive, with just a spark of mischief in the corner. They reminded
me a lot of Shard's, actually.
I twitched my ears and tuned in to their conversation.
The Korbat was speaking.
"Surely you can't be suggesting - no, that would
be too absurd, even for you, Ace."
"What would be too absurd?" the one called Ace
said, with deceptive mildness.
The Korbat made an impatient gesture with one
of his red wings. "That we send out a complete search party for one mutant Draik!"
Ace said sharply, "Don't judge everything on
appearances, Zeekaye," and Zeekaye bowed his head. I was puzzled at this but
decided it was a reference to some past event.
"Besides which," Ace continued, "Daneel isn't
just any common soldier. He's my brother -"
Zeekaye looked up in shock.
" - And that means he's the best. And wouldn't
you be suspicious if one of your best went missing? Say Phizith?"
Zeekaye snorted impatiently. "Alright, I see
your point, but I still think a full search team is too excessive."
Ace waved his words aside just as impatiently.
"Then what -" He broke off sharply.
"Then what what? Ace?" Zeekaye said.
Ace looked around with a calculating gaze. "Someone's
"You're being paranoid," Zeekaye said.
"You know better than that," Ace said absently.
"So who's watching us?" Zeekaye said.
Ace's eyes swung almost disconcertingly in my
direction, and from the expression on his face I could tell that he was not
someone who enjoyed being spied on.
This is not good, I said as Ace walked
swiftly towards me.
Why were you watching them? Shard asked.
Something about them interested me. The white
one reminded me a lot of you, actually.
She chirred with amusement and I was still trying
to figure out what was so funny when Ace and Zeekaye arrived.
Ace paused outside the shining shop window and
looked in. "Who are you?" he murmured, reigning in his anger.
I shrugged. I'm me, just the same as you're
He didn't understand me, of course, as he straightened
up and walked into the shop.
A bell ringed somewhere. Andy hurried forward,
dusting his hands off on his creamy yellow coat, his wings fluttering anxiously.
I could see he was surprised (even more than having a customer, I mean) by Ace's
appearance; I heard him murmuring, "A Maraquan Draik!"
A Maraquan Draik? Sounded weird enough, anyway.
"And what do you want, kind sir?" Andy asked,
overstressing his Meridellian accent the way he did when he was nervous.
"Your gallion was watching me," Ace said calmly.
"Which gallion?" Andy said, though I think he
knew by now.
Ace pointed to where I was sitting and Andy ran
"Carpenter," he said, and his voice was angry,
"I've told you a million times to not scare the customers!! I don't know why
I even bother with you. If it weren't for you, this shop would probably be doing
quite well -"
Don't delude yourself, Kacheek boy.
Shard shot me a warning look.
Ace frowned. "No -"
" - Really, I don't know what to do with you
sometimes! I'm tempted to just leave you at the Money Tree -"
In a few months I'll be there anyway, along
with all the other petpets in this shop, and you'll have to put yourself in
the pound. This shop is going nowhere fast! When we left Meridell I was just
as hopeful as you, but you can't trust anyone, especially not Fate!
If Andy couldn't understand the exact words of
my speech, my intent was clear from the way I threw back my head and thumped
my claws against the ground (childish, I know).
Andy threw back his hands. "I'm sorry about this.
Let me explain." He cleared his throat.
"A few months ago when I was back in Meridell,
I came across two gallions just sitting in a wood. Naturally I was surprised,
but then a whole flock -"
Clan! The word is clan!
" - of gallions swooped down and started scratching
them and biting them. They were going to kill them!"
I growled deeply. This time it was really menacing,
unlike my earlier squeak.
Andy barely glanced at me before going on. "I
saved them, and after a while I realized that their flock had banished them,
I couldn't figure out why, of course, seeing petpets can't talk!"
"Don't be so sure."
"Erm... right. It took me a while to get Carpenter
to trust me, and I'm not sure he does now, even."
I did, I said furiously. I really did.
Then, inspired by my sense for the dramatic, But I don't now.
"And now he won't trust anyone! And he takes
it out on innocent people. So once again, sorry, and I hope you have a good
He trusts me, Sharden said. I smiled.
Ace was examining me with a curious air. He turned
abruptly to Andy and said, "How much?"
"I'm sorry?" Andy said politely.
"How much for Carpenter?"
"What..." Andy gaped.
Zeekaye gave a sigh of impatience.
"One million!" Andy yelped, then immediately
covered his mouth. I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same
One million? You'd have to be insane to pay
a million Neopoints for a surly white gallion.
Ace wordlessly pulled out a hefty sack and dropped
it onto Andy's palm. Andy still seemed to be having a problem with speech as
he gazed at the million Neopoints that would solve all our problems.
Their! Solve all their problems.
Ace reached out his webbed hand and I hopped
uncertainly onto his shoulder, beginning to grin. Something about the Draik
made me trust him instantly. At long last I would have an actual home, a life,
My eyes sought out Shard, who was looking away.
Without her, it would be a hollow life, an incomplete victory. She had been
my friend through thick and thin. I couldn't leave her now!
I shook my head wildly.
I can't leave you!'
Shard was smiling softly. Go. You have this
chance - take it. Her haunting amber eyes were filling with tears, but she
kept on smiling. I thought, ashamed, that if the positions were reversed, I
would be doing everything I could to keep my one friend with me.
"Come on, Carpenter," Ace said. "I'll look after
Zeekaye rolled his eyes.
Go. Fly for me! The black gallion spread
her tattered wings, ruined in the mobbing, and looked away. Go now! Go while
I'll go now, I promised. I will fly