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Victory Incomplete


by wicked_summer

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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 look up.

     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 said irritably.

     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 watching us."

     "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 you.

     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. Zeekaye groaned.

     "Which gallion?" Andy said, though I think he knew by now.

     Ace pointed to where I was sitting and Andy ran over.

     "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 day, sir!"

     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 myself.

     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, a friend...

     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!

     Go.

     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 you."

     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 you can!

     I'll go now, I promised. I will fly for you.

The End

 
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