Different: Part Two
He felt the wind rushing in his ears, pushing his wings to his sides. With a burst of strength he spread them out wide. Immediately he felt the wind supporting his body instead of dropping it. A joyous laugh burst from Zirok's mouth. He had done it! He was flying, and it had been so easy and so terrifying and so wonderful! His body was lighter than a feather and danced on top of the wind with ease. Never did he think of falling, did the wind think of dropping him. He was free. Free at last! Freed from the very ground! Zirok spiraled and dived and circled happily. It was the best feeling in the world, to fly. But as he thought of his mother his mind became once again weighted with worry. What would she think when she saw what he had done? What would the tribe think? He would be punished, no doubt. He had broken a clan law, and one of the most important at that. He thought of the disappointment he would see in his mother's eyes every time he flew. She was the only one who had ever really cared for him. What would happen to their already slim bond? Would it be severed? Sadly he returned to the clifftop and gathered Mikkan in his arms.
"You must understand, Mikkan. You could fly once too. But oh, what will I say to my mother?" He walked back to the little village, knowing that it would be so much faster to fly there. But he walked. He was still at a loss as to what to say, when he heard his mother's voice from behind their own house.
"I hated to do it to him, elder, but what else could I have done? I could not watch my only son be killed trying to fly!"
"You did right, Lena. The boy couldn't possibly have made it. I would not have wanted him to die, either. He is stronger than he looks. He will be all right."
"Oh, elder, does it have to be now? After this awful disappointment, and you know how he loves that egg - he carries it with him everywhere."
Zirok started. They were talking about Mikkan.
"I know he does. It will be hard, too, especially after this. But there is nothing else that can be done. Mikkan does not belong here. It would be wrong to keep it here, to leave it trapped in a shell all its days. In Neopia Central it will at least have a chance of finding a human who will free it. The next time we trade with them could not be for many, many years. I see no other way. Tomorrow I must take Mikkan with me when I go to trade there."
Zirok backed away from the house, his mind numb with shock. They wanted to take Mikkan away from him? His only companion - his brother! No! He could not let them!
"Don't worry, Mikkan, I won't lose you," he said aloud as he ran for the bluff. He would go far away from here and never come back. He did not belong here, either. He was different! How foolish he had been to think that he could ever fit in here. He was an outcast. Zirok dived once more and began flying away from the island where he had been born. He flew for hours without stopping or thinking, concentrating solely on flying. He began to feel better trying to forget all that he had done. The sea below him shimmered and sparkled in the sunlight. It was as smooth as a mirror and calm as a palm tree. Zirok flew until he couldn't see the blue waters any longer, and came to a strange land that looked halfway between a desert and a jungle. When he finally had to stop for sheer exhaustion, it was well into the night. He stopped at the flat plateau that was hot and dry - Tyrannia, although he did not know it. Finding a seemingly abandoned hut in a small, quiet village, he settled down to sleep, deciding not to think about his past life as it made him feel bad. He curled up around Mikkan as he had done every night of his life. Mikkan warmed his soft, empty body and comforted him with the gentle beat of the ever sleeping heart.
After what the elder had said, Zirok thought for the first time that Mikkan might be suffering, trapped in the tiny suffocating shell, unable to speak or move. What must it be like? Zirok thought that he had always supposed that Mikkan was simply asleep, and that the time would seem very short to him if he ever was freed from his egg with a magical paintbrush. But what if this was not true? What if Mikkan desperately wanted out, was trying to call to Zirok for help but couldn't? Zirok knew that he must free his brother. So he could fly again. He could never deny Mikkan that - to fly. He must find a paintbrush for Mikkan. But to do that meant to find a human with a paintbrush, who would paint Mikkan. And he had heard many frightening stories about human owners. But he must do it, for Mikkan. Tomorrow he would find Neopia Central and mingle with humans and other species of neopets for the first time in his life.
With a sigh, Zirok began to drift into slumber. But a noise from the door of the hut startled him from his sleep. Zirok turned slowly, nearly paralyzed with fear. Standing just inside the hut was a huge, savage-looking Grarrl. Zirok had never seen a Grarrl before, but somehow he knew that this one was not at all happy with him. "Ugg ugga ug uggg....uga!" The Grarrl spoke in a strange tongue that Zirok had never heard before. He pointed at the young Draik and instantly two Tyrannian Moehogs appeared from the shadows, their tusks sharpened to a razor's point and directed at him, and began advancing menacingly towards Zirok.
Zirok backed away from the Moehogs until his back was against the earthen wall of the hut. His mind was in a state of panic; he didn't know what to do. Instinctively he tried to fly upwards and crashed through the dried-grass roof. For a moment, up where the angry Grarrl and his Moehog couldn't reach him, he felt relieved. Then he realized that Mikkan was still on the floor of the hut. Looking down with dread, he saw the Grarrl reaching for the helpless egg with fearsome claws. In a burst of fury Zirok dove straight for the Grarrl. He bared his soft teeth at the gargantuan creature and clawed at him with all his strength. His plushie claws were of course no match for the Grarrl's thick hide, but he fought madly until the Grarrl wrapped his enormous paws around Zirok and picked him up, holding him level with his own face. Looking at his captive with fierce yellow eyes, he gave a stern command to the Moehogs and tucked Zirok under his arm as though he were package, and strolled out of the tent, the Moehogs following with Mikkan on their backs. All seemed lost, when the Grarrl did a strange thing. He set Zirok down in front of a campfire and began to laugh. He roared with laughter until his tears ran down his cheeks and he was clutching at his sides with mirth. Finally he calmed down and wiped his eyes.
"Sorry, little Draik... you just... funny!" He chuckled some more. "Funny! Tiny Draik of cloth, fight fearsome big chief Ug Ugg... think you win? Think at first I eat you up? Funny!" His Moehog cronies, upon seeing their chief laughing, let out short, hoarse barks until Ug Ugg grunted at them and they fell silent. Placing Mikkan in Zirok's arms, he spoke again: "I no speak outsider good, but you understand. Why tiny fearless Draik sleep in Most High Chief's house? Huh?"
Zirok, overcoming his surprise, answered, "I didn't know it was yours, Most High Chief. I just needed a place to stay. You see I'm trying to get to Neopia Central-"
"You no go Central," Ug Ugg interrupted. "We take you." He clapped his paws and uttered a loud shout. Immediately a Tyrannian Korbat appeared, bowing regally. Ug Ugga spoke to him for a minute, and he nodded and knelt down. The chief picked Zirok up and placed him on the Korbat's back.
"Uggg Uga fly you to Central. You no sleep in Chief's bed." Before Zirok could protest, he clapped his paws again and Uggg Uga took flight. Zirok held onto Mikkan tightly, wondering how he had escaped so easily. The Korbat's gently flying soon lulled him to sleep. Suddenly he was thrown to the ground with a lurch. Waking instantly, he braced himself with his wings and let Mikkan strike his soft belly.
"Oof... jeez, he could have warned me." The Korbat was already disappearing into the horizon. The sun was just rising, lighting the world with its golden rays. Zirok found himself gazing wide eyed at the bustling city before him. Neopia Central. Here he would find a human who would free Mikkan, and then... what? He had never thought of that before. Where would he and Mikkan go? What would they do? And suppose that Mikkan didn't want to stay with him? Suppose Mikkan really wanted to be an egg all his life - but that was silly. Of course Mikkan would want to stay with him, Zirok, his brother. Of course Mikkan wanted to be free. And as to the future, well, they would worry about that when they came to it. Right now he must find a human with a paintbrush.
Zirok first went to the food shop, where he found, to his disappointment, that he could not get any food without neopoints, which seemed to be the currency here. After wandering around a bit, he found a place called The Rainbow Pool and a large sign that proclaimed, "Paint your pets here!" Eagerly he tried to enter but was stopped by a Chia who told him that no one without a paintbrush and an owner was allowed in, due to overcrowding. Zirok, who had never seen a Chia before, stared at the embarrassed neopet until someone from behind him yelled something about him holding up the line. Walking about Neopia Central, there were plenty of new pets for him to look at. For Zirok, who had lived among only Draiks his whole life, it was a very exciting experience. The other neopets were all so... different. For once, he didn't stick out in the crowd; he blended in. Some neopets had fur, some skin, some feathers, some scales. Maybe here, different wasn't bad at all. The humans, he noticed, looked somewhat the same as each other except for their clothes. They had no tails, and, upon closer inspection, very small ears. They weren't very attractive, to be truthful. They also were not very big or strong. Zirok wondered what made them the rulers of most of the globe. Wanting to see everything, he walked until his paws were sore. Near the end of the day, he finally decided to wait at the bank, where he was sure somebody who was rich enough to buy a paintbrush (he had checked some of the prices at the marketplace) would come by and help him. But everyone he approached and asked only said things like, "Go beg somewhere else, n00b," and "Why would you want to waste such an expensive paint job?" Feeling discouraged, Zirok was about to head somewhere else when a loud noise made him turn around. Thump.
At the base of the tall stairway leading to the front doors of the bank, a human was lying flat on its face, having fallen down the hard marble stairs. Zirok wondered if it had died, and what would happen now, but to his surprise no one even seemed to notice. The human picked itself up and began walking again, as if nothing had happened. A blue Scorchio walked along beside it. The Scorchio had not even asked the human whether it was all right, as if it did that very thing every day. (Which, in truth, it did.) Zirok curiously, but cautiously, walked up to the human, who, it seemed, was a female human. She was wearing a large starry droolik cap, which was rather humorous and made Zirok laugh. The human turned around and smiled pleasantly at him
"Hello. What's your name?" she asked. Zirok didn't know why, but there was something he liked about this person. Perhaps it was her smell. She had a very nice scent. For some reason he really wanted to trust this human.
"I'm Zirok," he replied. "I'm looking for a paintbrush."
"Why's that?" asked the Scorchio. "You don't like plushie?"
"It's not for me. It's for my brother, Mikkan." He held up the egg for them to see.
"Oh, I see," said the human. "It must be awful to be trapped inside an egg, right?"
"Yes," said Zirok, glad that she understood.
"Can't your owner afford a paintbrush?" asked the Scorchio.
"I don't have an owner."
"What? You don't?!"
"I come from far away. Where there are no owners."
"But if you're in Neopia Central you have to have an owner!" the Scorchio exclaimed. "If they find you out they'll put you in the pound!"
"The pound?" Whatever that was, it didn't sound very nice.
"You don't want to go there, Zirok. It's a prison!"
The human spoke up. "I'll tell you what. You can stay with us! That way you'll be safe from the pound. I'll help you find a paintbrush."
"Will you really?!" yelled Zirok in delight.
"Sure, no problem. My name's Nanaki - well, my username is chocobuckle, but everyone calls me Nanaki. And this is BrokenChimes."
"Just call me Chime."
"Come to think of it," said Nanaki, "I think I have a red paintbrush in the safety deposit box at home. We live in Terror Mountain. You don't mind, do you?"
"Nope," said Zirok happily.
"Come on, we'll take an Eyrie cab." Just like that! Zirok followed her with Mikkan in his arms, thinking that for the first time he'd met someone who had accepted him without question. How pleasant it felt! Perhaps being different didn't make you worthless after all. Zirok, ever optimistic, looked to the future with growing hope and excitement.
~One month later~
Zirok walked along the freezing path, snow crunching under his paws. He didn't feel the cold very much, being made of cloth, but his siblings did.
"Wait up, plushiepaws! The rest of us can't just rush outside with no coat!" complained Chime from the doorway of the small wooden house. Zirok laughed and waited, leaning on a fir tree, and gazed at his sister fondly. She was awfully nice, she always had been. But she loved to tease him. Nanaki stepped out of the warm house, in her starry droolik cap, as always.
"Hurry up, guys, or there'll be a huge line at the Wheel of Excitement!" Nanaki was a very responsible owner. Her pets were never hungry or sick. And she spent all her free time making neopoints so they could have nice toys and books.
"Oh boy, I can't wait! I've always wanted to go to Faerieland!" a small voice sounded delightedly from behind her.
"Well, come on then!" yelled Chime. Mikkan ran out the door as fast as his talons would carry him, nearly tripping over his huge coat.
"I want to get a faellie," he announced eagerly.
"Hold on there, I don't know about a faellie-" began Nanaki, but Mikkan was not listening anymore.
"Hey, Zirok, Zirok!" he yelled excitedly, racing to meet his brother. "I heard if you bug Jhudora, she'll turn you into a mortog! Is that true? Huh?" Zirok laughed at the little red Pteri.
"I wouldn't know, Mik. Why don't we go and ask her?" Mikkan laughed and raced ahead of the small group, eager as always. Zirok sighed and looked at his family happily. Already their bond was stronger than any he'd ever known, and he was happy here. He loved having Nanaki for an owner and Chime for a sister, and, of course, his brother Mikkan, whom he had carried over the sea in his arms as an egg. At last Zirok had found where he belonged.