Fearsome: A Grarrl's Story - Part Two
Despite what the creature said, though, it wasn’t too long before a human arrived. He was slightly younger than both the large humans in the house, the Grarrl could tell, though most definitely not as young as the human who had owned him. That is, if size was any indicator of human age. The human peered at him with interest.
“That’s a fine young Grarrl there! What’s your name, then, big guy?”
The Grarrl’s brow furrowed for an instant. “I don’t know. My previous humans... they always just called me ‘Grarrl’.”
The human shook his head with scorn. “Some people... they see Neopets that aren’t cute and fluffy and pay them no heed. Typical snobs. Tell you what, I’ll adopt you! How’s about that?”
The Grarrl smiled. This human didn’t seem half bad. “I’d like that very much!”
“I’ll give you a new name,” the human went on. “Your name shall be... hmm... let’s see... no, that doesn’t suit, no not that either... ah! Cruncher, that’s what you’ll be called! Cruncher!”
“Cruncher...” The Grarrl tried out his new name. “Yes, I quite like that. And what’s your name?”
The human laughed. “You’re a smart one, indeed! Brawn and brain... I think we’re going to get along well, Cruncher! You can call me Hekonn.”
Hekonn disappeared for a while, during which the newly named Cruncher eagerly pressed his scaly snout against the bars to watch him as he made his excited way to the front desk. This was something new, this attention and acclaim. He hadn’t had it before, but now that he had, he realized that he liked it very much.
Like the abandonment, the adoption didn’t take long. The other Neopet in the building, the pink one, came smilingly to let him out of his cage and hand him to his new owner.
And then they were out into the sunshine, onto the busy street outside. His new human put him on the ground. “There y’ are, old fellow,” he said amiably. “No use having big strong legs if you can’t be allowed to use them!”
There it was again, that warm glow that filled him whenever he heard that genial tone of voice. Cruncher beamed up at Hekonn. The human smiled back.
They walked and talked together along the road. Hekonn was friendly and cordial the whole way, and explained several more things to him. Cruncher glowed with pleasure. Now perhaps he had an owner who would treat him as well as... no, better than, his previous owner had treated Frenn.
They arrived soon at a small, one-room sized dwelling and walked up the short dirt path.
“Here we are,” Hekonn announced as he unlocked the shabbily painted door and flung it open. The room was dark and slightly damp, and the wood floor was carpeted by dust. It was a far cry from the clean, well-furnished house Cruncher was used to. Hekonn strode to a dingy armchair and flopped down in it with a satisfied sigh.
“Make yourself at home, young one,” he called to Cruncher, waving an arm at the small room. “We won’t do much with you today...”
Cruncher wondered at this last remark, but the sight of a grimy cooking range over in a dark corner drove all other thoughts out of his head. He opened his mouth excitedly. “Could we-”
“Ah, silly me, forgot it’s lunchtime,” Hekonn mumbled, getting up. He made his way over to a small cabinet and rummaged in it for a while before turning away from it with a tin can in each hand. He threw one to the Grarrl.
“There you go, Cruncher boy. Eat up. You’ll need all your strength for tomorrow.”
The Grarrl stared at the can in a mixture of surprise and disappointment. “This is food? In here? But I thought... well, don’t you cook food? On that?” He pointed a red claw at the cooking range.
Hekonn laughed again. “Better to let someone else do the cooking for you, don’t you think? I buy our food ready-made in cans. No need to mess about with oil and salt and things, much more convenient. I keep that stove just in case I need to heat something up. They can get cold, you know. Just tear the top open with your teeth.”
Cruncher obligingly bit into the cold metal. He spat the lid out and started on the contents of the can. There must once have been peas inside, but the fruit seemed to have melted to a warm, sticky, green ooze that was not at all appetizing. Cruncher ate the muck, albeit slowly and gingerly, because he really was rather hungry, and he didn’t want to offend such a nice human as Hekonn was. He gazed absentmindedly at the wall as he sucked and munched, a picture of a Grarrl, like himself, except this one was blue. He noticed a book of some kind, its pages warf-eared and rumpled, lying on the floor near him. It had a picture of a Grarrl on it, too. This made him smile. It could only mean Hekonn liked Grarrls, unlike the girl.
Still... perhaps if he asked Hekonn nicely he might be granted permission to use the stove. Then if he experimented a bit, maybe he could figure this cooking business out.
But when he turned to ask Hekonn about this, the human was already asleep.
Having nothing to do and nobody to talk to, he must have dozed off at some point as well, for all that it was still early in the afternoon. Because the next thing he knew was that he was waking up from what had been apparent unconsciousness, morning light was streaming through gaps in the stained curtains and Hekonn was smiling over him. The human had placed him on an old ragged cushion and draped a rough woolen blanket over him. Cruncher felt an inner glow warm him at the thought of this kindness, kindness he had never known.
“Ah, you’re awake at last, Cruncher boy!” he called happily. Unceremoniously, he dumped a can of baked beans by the Grarrl’s side. “Eat up. Your training starts today.”
“Training?” Cruncher inquired as he inserted a fang into the metal top and began to tear. “Training for what? What is this training?”
“Why, you’re going to be a Battledome champ, of course,” Hekonn exclaimed. “Strong fierce Grarrl like you... shouldn’t be wasting your time being a mere family pet.”
Cruncher looked down at himself. The same scaly red body, clawed paws and feet, and long thick tail he always saw. He hadn’t thought of himself as particularly strong or fierce. Was he?
Perhaps, if Hekonn thought he would be good at this... Battledome, whatever it was, it surely warranted a try. He hadn’t been allowed much of a chance at anything before. Looking up at his owner with his green eyes, he nodded, swallowing a mouthful of beans.
“Sure, I guess I could give it a try... if you’d show me how.”
“That’s my boy!” Hekonn clapped the Grarrl on the back. “We’ll be off to the Training School as soon as you’re done with your breakfast.”
Mystery Island. The very name conjured up images of wonder and mystique, of faraway places and great adventurers. Cruncher wondered with impatient anticipation what could be so fascinating about the place. The ferry ride itself was interesting enough, what with the Coco natives and the sun-sparkling wavelets gently slapping at the craft’s sides, and the large, milling crowd of intriguing pets and people. The Grarrl wandered around the boat, from one side to the other, trying to take in it all. Once he paused to gaze over the wooden railing at the glinting turquoise swell, stretching so far off into the distance. There was so much to see and do. How could he ever accomplish it all in one lifetime?
The island itself was a new, fresh change from a world he had only just begun to realize. As they set off along a dusty path into the wilderness all around, Cruncher immediately decided he liked it a lot more than Neopia Central, this land of pale chartreuses, bright shining golds and homey, dusty browns. Here and there a brilliant, fantastically shaped and patterned jewel of a fruit hung glistening temptingly on a high branch, or peeking out from under a verdant cover of leaves at foot level. Now and then he could pick out the strains of chanting in the distance, the Cocos going about their rituals. And always in the background there was the soothing, sighing sound of the surf caressing the shoreline. Cruncher reveled in the beauty all around him. He could hear himself think here, could relax. Briefly he wished that he and Hekonn could live here. How wonderful it would be! The very thought filled his whole being with delight.
They soon arrived at a large, bamboo-built building and entered through the door. A red Nimmo wearing a strange black costume met them there, and bowed to them.
“Welcome, friend. You look strong.”
Hekonn laughed. “’Course, Ryshu, sir. It’s nice to finally meet you in the flesh! I’ve brought my Grarrl here for training in every course.”
“You... do know he can only complete one course at a time,” the Nimmo said, somewhat taken aback.
“Yes, yes,” Hekonn replied airily. “I know. But perhaps he could stay here the whole day and take a breather with every course completed...?”
“It’s possible,” the Nimmo continued, eyeing the human cautiously, “but you’d have to come back with the completion of every course to sign him up for a new one.”
“Can do. Let’s try strength first. Which codestone do you want? I’ve got all kinds here...”
Cruncher soon found himself being led away by the red Nimmo. He looked back to see Hekonn waving at him. “Good bye, Cruncher!” he called cheerily. “I’ll be back in an hour or two!”
Thus ensued the most tiring day of Cruncher’s life thus far. Along with several other young pets, he was made first to build up his strength, both outer and inner, through a series of body motions. It was rather relaxing, truth be told, and he found the concept of inner strength most fascinating. But nonetheless it left him quite tired by the end of the two hours.
That wasn’t the end. He barely had time to rest five minutes before his owner returned and happily signed him up for a course in speed before he could protest. So in he went again, with another group of pets, to improve his speed through running in various ways. It was the same after that, and after that. After the completion of four courses the Grarrl was to say the least, enervated.
Even though he might have enjoyed himself at one point, he was really quite relieved and happy to say goodbye to Ryshu and leave the Training School. He thought he saw the Nimmo give him a look of some sympathy but that might just have been imagination stemming from fatigue.
It was only mid afternoon.
“What a time, eh, Cruncher, boy?” Hekonn laughed. “Four courses in a day, but no trouble for you, right?”
Cruncher raised a claw weakly. “Actually, Hekonn, I’d like it if we could not do that again.”
Hekonn looked at him with some disbelief, and then seemed to notice his pet’s weariness. “Well... you do have a point. Wouldn’t want you wearing yourself out. We’ll only do one course a day from now on.”
The Grarrl returned his attention to the road ahead of him, but then a flash of vividness caught his eye. Turning to the place he had seen it, he saw a small round fruit, striped and spotted with dark gold against a purple backdrop, poking out from some long, dark green leaves. Without thinking he reached out a claw, plucked it and bit into it. The cool, watery sweetness of it filled his mouth, soothing and refreshing his drained system. Surprised and pleased, he guzzled down the rest of it and looked about for more. He recognized the same plant further ahead, trotted over to it as fast as his legs would allow, and collected another fruit of the same type.
Hekonn chuckled. “Nice, are they? Well, I’m glad you like ‘em. But don’t spoil your appetite, there’s marmalade and prunes waiting for you back home. Those things can’t be all that nutritious.”
They had walked a little further when they happened upon a group of young pets no older than Cruncher himself, playing in a small grassy yard fenced by bamboo stalks. There was a blue Kacheek, a green Mynci and a red Kougra, romping happily through the sunlit grass. Here and there were bright spots of toys on the grass: a worn Plushie, a moth-eaten Fuzzle, a plastic Frisbee. As Cruncher watched, mesmerized, a human emerged from the house on the lawn, laughing as he walked towards them. All around the house were others like it, all made of bamboo or twigs or straw, and once in a while a stone one. Some houses had pets playing in their gardens, others simply had thin wisps of smoke trailing from the wood chimneys. But one thing was clear: they were all homes.
Cruncher turned an eager face upon his owner, tugging at his trouser leg. “Look, Hekonn, there are people living here! And pets too! Couldn’t we live here too? Get a house here, like that?”
Hekonn laughed. “Now, what gave you that silly idea, Cruncher? It isn’t civilized, living out here in the middle of nowhere. No shops that sell anything useful, no proper hospital, nothing... makes you wonder how these people cope, really. No, it’s out of the question.”
The red Grarrl gazed once again, regretfully, at that one house. The human had reached his pets now and was gathering them into his arms as they squealed with laughter and mock fright, trying to escape. He continued to watch over his shoulder as they were rolled over and tickled, convulsing with mirth. In that instant, Cruncher felt that if he could have given up being ‘civilized’ and come and live ‘in the middle of nowhere’, with the beauty of the untamed jungles, fresh, luscious fruits, and the sound of the waves all around him, he most definitely would have.
To be continued...