Different: Part One
Somewhere, miles from the familiar Neopia Central, the sun shone on a small, secluded island where the Malori tribe dwelled. This small group of Draiks had been living on the island for centuries. They knew little of the outside world and lived by their traditions and customs, beloved rituals they had practiced all their lives. They were, in many respects, different from the Draiks found in most of Neopia; they did not have owners and did not abide by the laws of the humans, but by their own.
Their eggs hatched many different color Draiks, whereas those of the normal Draiks, besides the basic colors, only hatched ice or Darigan. They had long, needle-point claws unlike their distant relatives, their horns grew longer and sharper, and they were not at all open minded. They simply couldn't tolerate anyone different from themselves.
This particular morning, a small celebration was being held. Today was hatching day, a proud day for the parents of many eggs that resided in the community nest. All the eggs would hatch at midday, at the same time, as they did every year, and had done for longer than anyone cared to remember. The Draiks performed the traditional hatching dance, exactly two minutes before hatching time. All then waited expectantly for the new arrivals. A synonymous number of cracks split the air; the eggs had hatched. All but two. Gasps and whispers echoed through the crowd. Two unhatched eggs? This had never happened before! The parents of the one of the eggs stepped forward, touching the egg in grief.
"It must be a dud," said the father, a spotted Draik, sadly.
"What awful misfortune," exclaimed the mother, a lovely white Draik. But they had spoken too soon. Many cracks appeared in this unusual egg before the shell collapsed, revealing the small infant Draik. This was too much for the small tribe. An egg hatching late?! It was simply unheard of! The village elder stepped forward.
"Is the child alive?" he inquired cautiously.
"Yes," said a beaming mother. "He is healthy as I am!"
"Do you have any idea what may have caused this?"
"No," said the father. "It is a mystery to us."
"What color is it?"
"It is plushie."
"Plushie! That's ridiculous. Draiks of the Malori are not plushie. Not ever. Maybe Maraquan sometimes, but plushie?"
"But he is," said the father disappointedly. "I don't know how, but he is."
"It is too unusual," the elder mused. He pondered for a minute, scratching his silver head in thought.
"It would probably be best if nobody spoke of this any longer. We will simply pretend he is a normal child. But now, this other egg! It has not hatched at all. Would the parents of this egg come forward?" But no one moved. No one could remember this egg at all. In fact, everyone had already accounted for their own children.
"Come to think of it," said the elder, "this egg doesn't look like a Draik egg at all! I have never seen such a design."
"I have." It was the mother of the plushie. "Once when we were doing trade with the people of Mystery Island. It belonged to a human. I asked him about it because I was curious. It is a Pteri egg. But I am at a loss as to how it came to be here."
"Pteri...! I know nothing of their kind. When will it hatch, do you know?"
"It will not hatch, elder. You see, Pteris are not born from eggs. They must be painted with a paintbrush to become that way. It will not hatch unless it is painted again."
"But what is the point to this? It will be an egg forever? Why would any owner want that?"
"For looks only, elder..."
"I do not understand humans. But what is to be done with it... well, the only thing feasible I can see is to take it with us when we go trading again and find a human who will take care of it."
The Draiks agreed that this would most definitely be best, and that none of this strange affair should be spoken of again. The plushie Draik, although for the most part cared for as any normal Draik child, was generally ignored by the tribe. There were many who resented being made to tolerate his presence; he was different, something that made him wrong in the eyes of his people. His mother named him Zirok, the Malori word for outcast, because of this. She placed the Pteri egg in his nest to keep him warm as he slept, after the other children grew old enough to detect the opposition toward him and wanted nothing to do with him as their parents did. The egg they called Mikkan, which meant Lost. Zirok grew, as all young people must, and was alone because of his color. His peers only teased him when they saw him, for he was different, and not only that but his appearance was much less than intimidating.
"He has no horns, can you believe that? How is he supposed to fight?"
"Look at his claws! They are soft and weak. How can he grip anything with them? How can he ever be anything without claws and fangs to help him win what he wants?"
"Why is he so different? Why isn't he like us?"
Zirok grew to learn that different was bad. Different made you worthless. It made you an outcast. It made you a nothing. That's what he was. That was his name. Outcast. Zirok's only friend was Mikkan. Mikkan never made fun of him. Mikkan kept him warm at night. Mikkan was always there for him. Mikkan was his best friend. And every day that passed, Zirok grew closer and closer to Mikkan. At night he would wrap his soft body around the egg that emanated warmth and love and he would listen to the rhythm of the small beating heart inside. In the day he carried Mikkan with him carefully in his stuffed claws and whisper softly to it some of the things that puzzled or amazed him. Every day the other children grew stronger and bigger, but Zirok grew slowly and was always still soft and weak. Zirok did not mind so much. He could not fight and play roughly with the others. Instead of doing the things that his tribe enjoyed doing, Zirok liked to think and learn and wonder. Often he would spend days sitting on the shore watching the waves and thinking about the world and about himself. This, too, was different from the familiar customs of the Malori and was not looked too kindly upon.
"I love him," his mother, Lena, said, "but he is not normal. There is something not quite right in him. That is what comes of hatching late, I suppose."
His father preferred not to speak of him, so no one could tell what he really thought of his son. Chances are, however, that he simply didn't. Perhaps it seems that life was very cruel to Zirok, but he knew no other life. He could not be unhappy, not knowing that there was anything else in the world. But he did wonder. He grew wise by thinking and observing and feeling, although none of his family noticed it. He found himself growing taller, though never as tall as his peers. And one day it was time for all the young Draiks to learn how to fly. There was much excitement in the air. At last the children would be adults! Tradition stated that they must learn by diving off the tallest cliff on the island, which was known as Bula's Buff. Of course as soon as the Draiks hit the air their large wings would spread wide and they would instinctively soar upwards in their first flight. All young Draiks had done this, for many years, not a one doing it any differently from the others. Not a thought crossed anyone's mind that someone should do it differently, for no one ever had.
Zirok was more excited than anyone else to fly. He had often imagined it, often wondered what it felt like and what it looked like up in the sky. Now he could find out. He was a bit nervous, however. He worried that he wouldn't be able to fly; after all, he could do hardly any of the things all the other Draiks did. But he was sure he could do it, even if he had to try more than once. Zirok was pushed to the back of the line, as he had always been, and watched as the others flew in the bright sky, shouting with joy. Finally it was his turn! He stepped up excitedly to the edge, but just as he was about to jump, a paw grabbed his shoulder.
"No, my son." It was his mother. "You cannot go."
Zirok felt that his heart was broken.
"Why? Why can I not fly like the others? Am I a Draik? Flying is my birthright! How can you take this away from me? How can you justify that? I am a Draik! I must fly!"
His mother wiped tears from her eyes. "I am so sorry, my dear. I wish I could let you go. But you cannot fly. Your wings are not made of muscle and sinew and feather-light bone. Your wings are made of cloth and stitches and cotton. You would fall to the ground like a rock and be dashed to pieces."
"Mother, if I should die doing this, finally airborne, I would have lived a life a thousand times better than one on the ground. I am a creature of the air. You know this."
"I am sorry, but I cannot watch you die. You are my only child, and I have always loved you, even if it did not seem so. My word is final on this." Zirok sat numbly as the Draiks dispersed back towards the village. His mother left too, sadly, after watching him a minute. Zirok knew he could not change his mother's mind. A Malori Draik will never, never disobey a parent; such a thing is unthinkable among their tribe. This was the first thing a child was ever taught, and none had ever questioned it. But Zirok did question it now. He felt that he would never be an adult Draik without flight, and how could his mother take that from him? Did she want him to be a child forever?
"How can I not do this, Mikkan?" he whispered to the silent egg clutched in his arms. Zirok had never, as long as he had been alive, stopped growing closer to Mikkan. He felt now that the egg was a part of him.
"How can I not learn to fly? But how can I disobey my mother? What can I do, Mikkan?" Zirok stared at his unrelated brother, wishing that he could give him advice. "I must do it. I can't not fly! I am a Draik!" So Zirok set Mikkan down on a clump of grass and stepped up to the edge once more. He took a deep breath and braced himself. Not once thinking of turning back, Zirok dived.
To be continued...