What Am I?: Part Three
A Spyderweb of cracks fled in all directions from the place where Kitron’s fist had slammed into the floor, but unlike the others this floor didn’t break. Straightening up and giving no sign that the unexpectedly solid impact had caused him any pain, the Zafara reported, “We have reached the bottom level. I must locate the submarine docking bay. You will wait at this location.” With that he raced off, darting about the room with a speed even a winged pet would be hard put to rival.
Kelenria cowered on the floor, contemplating her future in general and the soon-to-be-required explanation in particular. The accidental ride in the pod was innocent enough, and a necessary part of the story; but as for the discovery of Kitron, well... She supposed she could say that she’d seen a big Neopet escape the tank, punch through the walls and flee, and that not knowing how else to get out of the building she followed him to see if he found a way out.
Kelenria sighed. Her owner, Jack, had as firm a moral code as any human she had ever known; and while many humans labeled him a geek with his freckles, round glasses and bowl-shaped hairdo, Kelenria loved him like the father he was to her and the thought of lying to him was like a bucket of acid poured over her heart.
But then, how do you tell your owner that you’re bringing home some sort of unpredictable superpowered Sloth experiment? I led him home. Can I keep him?
Just brilliant, Kelenria.
Steeling herself and feeling filthy beyond the power of words to describe, Kelenria formulated the rest of the story; and by the time Kitron returned she had gotten it fairly well hashed-out. “I have located the docking bay,” Kitron informed her. “The security devices have been destroyed.”
Kelenria gave him a trembling nod, wondering if he was going to grab her again. Instead he walked ahead of her, glancing over his muscular shoulder as if to ask whether she was coming. The Xweetok followed him obediently, a tiny, graceful glimmer of brown, black and green slipping after the Shadow Zafara like a patch of living forest gliding silently after a tall and powerful wraith.
They reached the bay within less than a minute, and Kitron directed Kelenria to sit down in the nearest submarine. It had already been prepared for departure, and Kitron displayed a brisk, expert efficiency as he launched the small craft into the cold, dark waters that lurked and whispered in the tube that had been carved into the base of the mountain by the labour of many slaves.
Kelenria shrank back against her backrest, momentarily overwhelmed by the cold, still darkness that surrounded her, both in the water outside the sub and in the towering Zafara within it. He kept his eyes forward, guiding the craft with firm, steady hands and not uttering a word. Kelenria wished he would speak; this frigid silence was unnerving and she longed for reassurance that she was not going to become simply a tool on this strange creature’s shelf.
But the silence continued, and the murmuring waters slipped by until Kelenria could stand it no longer. “Kitron?” she began, and the Zafara glanced at her sharply, his attention arrested by the echo of panic in the Xweetok’s voice.
“Kelenria of Neopia. Is something wrong?”
“I...” Kelenria hadn’t really thought of anything to talk about, and she fidgeted awkwardly while Kitron continued to stare at her with a look of patient expectancy. Finally grasping at something, she blurted out, “Do you have any suggestions for how I’m going to explain all this to my owner?”
Kitron looked startled, at least as much so as seemed possible for the firm, stoic, single-minded creature. “I had not allotted any time to consider this matter.” He suddenly seemed vaguely uneasy. “What will your owner’s reaction consist of if he becomes aware of my presence?”
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I have no idea what he’d do. He’s really nice, but...” She trailed off, painfully aware that Kitron was waiting for her to finish. But how was she to explain to him that he had once belonged to a being who was a threat to all of Neopia? And how would he react, if she did?
If she had hoped that Kitron would let it drop, she was disappointed. “You have not completed your sentence.”
Kelenria hesitated, trying to find a way to word this gently. “The person who used to own that building I found you in... not many people like him. And they might assume that you’re working for him. That’s why I have to hide you.”
Kitron’s gaze returned to the shadowed water ahead of him. His dark eyes were troubled, and his deep voice was quiet as he said simply, “I am a fugitive.” This could complicate his search for his designated function, and possibly jeopardize his life. He wished what little of his information download had succeeded had included this revelation so that he would have been better prepared to deal with it; then he pushed that thought aside. Wishing was inefficient and ineffective, two things he simply was not.
“Only until we can prove that you aren’t evil,” Kelenria said quickly in response to his statement, then hesitated. Just how deep a hole am I going to dig for myself here? Kitron was more powerful than any being she had ever seen face-to-face, and what if he did turn out to be evil? Did she really want to get involved in that?
But she already was involved. She had offered her help, and her fate was now bound up with that of this strange, uncertain Zafara titan. To what extent she wasn’t sure, but it seemed that he depended on her, and it was a surprisingly pleasant thought. It felt good to be needed.
Now, if she could just keep her family blind to this arrangement, perhaps this would turn out well after all.
* * * * *
“Kelenria! Good grief, I’ve been looking all over for you! Are you all right?”
The tiny Xweetok had just come through the door of her home in the Tyrannian Jungle, interrupting an urgent conversation between Jack and a young green Acara from the Defenders of Neopia. Now the human practically pounced on her, scooping the soft little bundle of fur into his arms and cradling her against his chest. Shifting her so that he could look into her eyes, he asked, “Where in Neopia have you been?”
Kelenria related the story of her unexpected ride through the tube, then offered the tailored version of her escape from the building. “I figured by that time the class would have already left,” she continued as her story reached the point where she’d found the submarines, “and... well...” she blushed and giggled nervously, then concluded, “those submarines looked so tempting I figured I’d just use one of them to get home.”
Jack stared at her in surprise. “You can pilot those things?”
Kelenria fidgeted, silently blessing her foresight. She had asked Kitron to show her the basics of driving the sub, just in case this question arose. “Yeah, well... it took me a while to figure it out, but I got it in the end.”
The Acara looked as impressed as Jack did. “That’s quite an adventure you had. So, where’s the submarine now?”
“I left it in the harbour and used my lunch money to hire a Uni to bring me the rest of the way here. Normally he asked for more Neopoints than I gave him, but since I’m just a kid and I didn’t really have any other way of getting home, he decided to settle for what I had. Besides,” she added with a grin, “he wanted so badly to know what the blazes I was doing popping up out of the ocean alone in a Sloth submarine that I don‘t think he could have said no if I’d asked to ride for free.”
Jack chuckled and the Acara asked, “So, where’s the whatever-it-was you followed?”
“I’m not sure,” Kelenria answered honestly. According to an arrangement they had hashed out en route, Kitron had slipped out of the submarine while the people at the docks were distracted with Kelenria, and was making his way toward her home as secretively as he could. For all the Xweetok knew, he could already be waiting for her in the treehouse.
The Acara nodded. “We’ll keep searching, then. I don’t think our mystery monster would be interested in Tyrannia, so there’s probably no need for you to worry.” Giving a final courteous nod to Kelenria, he added, “I’m glad you got home safely.”
“Thank you,” Kelenria answered politely. “So am I.”
The moment the door closed, the young Xweetok found herself pinned by her owner’s searching gray-blue gaze. Jack’s smile was gentle, but his eyes were grave and penetrating. “There’s something you aren’t telling me, Kelenria,” he said quietly.
Kelenria tried not to panic. “Huh? No!”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “It isn’t like you to hide things from me, Kel. And your anxious tone tells me that you are.”
Kelenria hesitated, then said, “I... I didn’t think you’d like to hear how close I got when I was... following whatever it was. I didn’t want to worry you.”
Jack looked half amused, but the searching look didn’t entirely leave his eyes. “You’re safe now, and that’s what matters. Come on, I’ll get supper. You must be hungry- you never got to eat lunch.”
Kelenria nodded vigorously. “Yeah, I’m starved. Although...” She paused for a moment, then added, “Would you mind if I ate in my treehouse? I’m not sure I’m up for Talrin and Kyle’s tabletop wars tonight. You remember what happened last night.”
Jack couldn’t help but laugh. The Baby Lupe and the Baby Gelert had started fencing with their celery, actually taking it so far as to leap up onto the table, yelling challenges while their owner and sisters scrambled to keep them from trampling the food. In the end the only casualty had been the tomatoes, and Kelenria considered that no great loss. The epic battle it had taken to remove the remains of said tomatoes from between a reluctant Talrin’s toes, however, had devoured a large chunk of the evening, since the Lupe had wanted to keep them and see how many footprints he could make before the tomato goo ran out.
“Sure you can,” Jack said warmly. “There’s a Grackle-stuffed Turkey and some potatoes in the fridge- I’ll heat them up, and you can have some Illusens Cream Cookies for dessert.”
Ten minutes later, Kelenria approached the treehouse with a plate balanced precariously on her forepaws and her body poised even more precariously on her hindlegs. Just because some Xweetoks were capable of walking upright didn’t mean this one had to be good at it. But at least she wasn’t so hopeless that she couldn’t get the food to the treehouse unspilled. It was vastly more than she could eat in one meal, but that had been intentional. Kitron would surely have gotten here by now, and he would no doubt be hungry. Sure enough, when she opened the door the first thing she saw was the glitter of black eyes in the small but cozy room.
Kelenria tensed in alarm, seized with sudden misgiving. Kitron’s whole body bristled visibly with something bordering on hostility, and the crimson glow of the sunset shimmered menacingly across his sleek obsidian pelt. For a moment she feared that he might attack; but he relaxed the moment he recognized her, holding the door open to allow her to enter more easily. “Kelenria of Neopia,” he greeted her. “Your owner accepted your report?”
“Er- yes... sort of. I’m not sure he completely believed me, but he let it drop. Anyway, I convinced him to let me bring my supper out here. There’s enough to share.” She handed him the extra fork and knife she had managed to sneak from the kitchen, then divided the food into two portions, offering the larger one to him. He thanked her for it, and for a while the two of them ate in silence. Kelenria couldn’t help but think it felt strange to be sharing a plate with a Sloth experiment; but she pushed the thought out of her mind. I can’t think of him that way, she told herself. He isn’t one of Sloth’s- he’s a Zafara who’s trying to figure out who he is. Despite her silent admonishment, it still felt distinctly incongruous to hand the towering creature a cookie. Next I suppose I’ll be reading him a bed-time story!
Between sticky mouthfulls of cookie, Kitron asked her, “Have you compiled a list of potential functions yet?”
Kelenria shook her head. “Sorry, I haven’t. I’ve been too busy trying to make sure that Jack doesn’t realize you’re here.”
“My owner. That’s his name.”
In the silence that followed, Kelenria let her eyes roam across the Zafara’s massive ebony body. She wasn’t certain anymore whether to be afraid of him or not. He had the potential to be dangerous- there was no question about that- but while there were times when he showed all the gentle consideration of a bulldozer, she was almost entirely convinced that he had enough of a moral code that she was safe around him- either that, or he simply needed her too much to let her be damaged. Right now he seemed quiet and contemplative, staring out the window with the deep, fading gray of twilight flickering in his eyes. His chin was nestled in one of his strong, long-fingered hands, his elbow was propped up on the windowsill, and the tip of his tail swung rhythmically from side to side like a slow, hypnotic pendulum. His back and broad shoulders, huge and utterly black like a preview of the coming night, were relaxed, their tight, rippling muscles slack in quiet rest. Kelenria felt that she ought to say something to him; but how do you make conversation with a person who has no past to talk about, and knows nothing about himself except that he seeks a duty and lives for nothing else?
Suddenly realizing that it was getting late, the Xweetok said, “I need to get going. It’s almost my bedtime.” Kitron pulled his gaze from the fading world outside, and nodded. Kelenria gave him a small smile. “Have a good night.”
Kitron blinked, then replied almost mechanically, “You also.”
Gathering up the plate and utensils, Kelenria slipped through the door and cautiously climbed down the ladder before gliding away into the gathering gloom.
Glancing back, the young Neopet allowed her gaze to linger for a moment on the now-empty window of the treehouse; and, for the first time, she wondered what it would be like to be Kitron: to have no family, no past, no idea what the future would hold, not even memories to fill the emptiness of her heart, as night fell over the world.
To be continued...