A green blur rushed past a tall sequoia tree, panting and squealing with unparalleled fear. Every few seconds, the ground uttered a terrible rumble, followed by a great and terrible roar.
In an instant, the krawk petpet tripped over an arched root, falling with a puff of dust and quickly scrambling to get up and run. It seemed that everything was preventing him from escaping to safety; the root, the entangling bushes, the grasping branches of trees, everything, and still did the cause of his fear come ever closer.
Another shriek came from his maw, a cry for help that he knew very well would simply remain unanswered. He was doomed. But why was it that his stubby little legs still granted him enough energy to continue his reckless dash through the thick, dripping Tyrannian Jungle?
It was not long before he realized the reason. A few moments, later, before he could stop or even utter another, half-hearted shriek, a massive rumble shook the ground and the little krawk fell flat into the dirt. In his line of vision was a great red foot bearing wickedly curving claws. Another roar, a triumphant roar. Now he was doomed!
Before the bearer of the claw could scoop up his prey, another figure appeared, trumpeting loudly and running through the forest like a magnificent firestorm. In an instant, both figures clashed, and he sat up, watching with horror as one struggled against the other. The red Grarrl roared again, but for all his bulk, it seemed that he was pretty much a coward and the Elephante with auburn fur was getting a huge advantage. With determination, it overthrew the Grarrl and sent it roaring back to where it came, without his quarry.
The Elephante quickly scooped up the small krawk and it seemed as if this was but an exchange: from one pursuer to another, but when the Elephante with his curving tusks began to murmur gently and hug him, the krawk realized that at long last, all was well.
“You are safe now, little one. That mean Grarrl will chase you no more!” he announced, speaking in Tyrannian, of course, but this has been translated for your purpose.
The krawk nodded but then shrieked when a tusk brushed his leg by accident. He did not notice that he had a scraped leg during the run, and now that the excitement was over, he felt the stinging more severely. “You are hurt!” observed the Elephante. “Pacha will help.” With a gentleness born of experience, the Tyrannian veterinarian quickly wrapped his trunk around the krawk and the twosome made haste to the Petpet clinic.
“All better!” Pacha smiled triumphantly while the krawk inspected his leg, now healing and bandaged.
“You need a home, though,” the Elephante said to himself, wrapping his trunk almost instinctively around the door that lead from the clinic to the petpet shop where Pacha sold all his healthy petpets to the public to take care of.
The clinic was large compared to the shop, with a domed stone ceiling and many cabinets to store bandages, compresses, and all the medicines in Pacha’s extensive pharmacopoeia. There was a table, where the krawk was resting right now, a basalt stone with a luxurious fur draped over it to offer splendid comfort. The petpet shop was smaller, but no less fine. Open cages where petpets could roam (Pacha despised closed cages) were scattered throughout the room, with little bark papers stating the petpets’ medical history and feeding requirements located just above them. A granite counter was there, coated with a finer, softer skin. The difference between the two was that there were quite a few Neopians there constantly, watching and waiting for something.
“It's time!” announced Pacha suddenly.
He took out a bark sliver, a charcoal stick, and began to write upon it. The krawk watched eagerly, seeing strange scribbles that were simple nonsense to him. Upon completing, Pacha took off the bandage to inspect the leg, nodding in approval, as the scratch was no more. “Good luck, little one,” he said in his deep voice, and then with a worried glance, he stepped out into the shop.
Roars exploded. Pets of all sorts saw him and scrambled to pay the sixty thousand-neopoint fee. Pacha held on carefully to the poor krawk, who closed his eyes and ears from the screams and the melee that was now rushing to buy him. A moment later, Pacha spotted the one pet that paid the correct price quickly enough, and gave the krawk to her.
At first, he was confused. The sudden warmth of Pacha’s kind trunk was replaced with cold wings, and the temperature decrease was shocking. Why did Pacha give him away? He turned to look back at the Elephante, who smiled and waved his trunk in farewell.
The other pets rushed upon them, and he curled up with terrible fear, but then Pacha was upon them, chasing them out and angrily pushing aside those who were fighting. At last, the madness was over and the crowd of angry and sad neopets dispersed, leaving the krawk with his new owner.
“Hey there, little fella,” whispered the icy Hissi with a smile. “Aren’t you a cutie?”
The krawk giggled as an icy wingtip took up a leaf and began to tickle his tummy. He began to like this new owner.
“What is your name, little fella? I’d rather not call you that unless you want me to, especially if you have a name, yeah?”
The krawk paused before growling. “Uroj,” he said, smiling.
He liked that name. It rolled off the tongue and was very pleasant to hear. He did not remember where he earned that name, but he remembered that he liked it very much. “That is a nice name,” announced the Hissi. “I am Gelu.” Uroj decided that he liked her name too.
As they came under the shade of a sequoia tree that stood upon a windswept hill, Uroj noticed some pets running towards them. One was not running, rather floating, and the other was flying. The third came upon them a bit later. The first was a ghost Flotsam draped in the white cloak of a Halloween Flotsam, and the other was an Eyrie with pirate garb. The last was a mutated Kougra, and their presence combined made Uroj snuggle closer to Gelu, albeit the fact that she was frozen and offered no warmth.
“You restocked a krawk?” squealed the Kougra happily. “Now we are rich! Yay!”
Gelu and Uroj exchanged confused glances. “W-what do you mean?”
The ghostly Flotsam began to speak in her chilling voice. “What Khelai means is that we need to go to the Trading Post swiftly, lest that insidious Pant Devil comes and spirits him away from us...”
“You can’t sell Uroj!” cried Gelu, clutching the krawk.
“Yeah,” said the Eyrie. “Look at us, Gelu. We all have petpets, no space for a new pet; the only purpose he serves is to give us neopoints.”
“No...” whispered Gelu, her tears coming out and quickly freezing upon contact with her face.”
“We are poor; we have no choice,” whispered the ghost Flotsam. “I am sorry.”
After what seemed like ages, Gelu finally bowed her head in resignation, hugging Uroj, who was totally confused by the situation. “Sorry, Uroj...”
With a nod, the pirate Eyrie, who was by far the oldest of them all, took off his backpack and took out a scroll. Upon it were pictures of many different things, and a few words as well. He pressed a button that looked like a post with something written on it, and in an instant the world seemed to gray and dim. Uroj never experienced inter-neopian travel, and was greatly frightened. After a while, the world seemed to relight, and the tingling sensation that covered his body receded. For a few moments, he saw nothing but light, but then his vision returned and he saw that the entire world changed.
He was no longer in Tyrannia.
Instead of sequoia trees, there were tall, swaying palms with unfailing strength. The smell was also different, rich and fruity, and he could hear the soft beat of drums in the distance. Where were they? Uroj watched as Gelu and the rest began to move through the thick, new jungle, until they arrived in an open space with a wooden hut and a roof made of twined leaves. All around them were pets, bargaining and shouting. Uroj became afraid... what was going on?
The ghost Flotsam stretched out his eerie fins and reached for the krawk. Gelu seemed reluctant, but with a quiet grunt from the Eyrie, she relented and the Flotsam took him. Uroj watched with fascination, as he was placed on the grass in an open patch of land that was not filled with shouting pets, glancing back at Gelu, who was crying. All other eyes turned to behold him, some greedy, some not. The Flotsam took a signpost that seemed empty, but then noticed that one nearby seemed to have the same wishlist as he intended and took that one instead, driving it into the earth.
Shouts rose from the crowd as they sought the possession of the krawk. The Flotsam was patient, watching the offers pour in. Many were newbie offers of fishing junk and omelettes, but more than one seemed serious. At last, a shout rose forward and all heads turned to behold a rather greedy looking Skeith bearing in his hands a huge load of gray paint brushes and some other items.
The crowd parted as the Flotsam and the Skeith began to debate, but at last the items were exchanged and the Flotsam pulled away the signpost that bore the wishlist and threw it in the reject pile that was located conveniently nearby.
At first Uroj was totally bewildered by what happened, it was all too fast for his little eyes. But when he was scooped up by the Skeith, he realized what had happened and screeched. “Be still,” growled the Skeith, gripping his prize in an iron hand.
The krawk turned to look back at Gelu and the rest, but they disappeared from view, leaving nothing in their wake. The Skeith, red in color, seemed to remind Uroj of the massive Grarrl that chased him in the Tyrannian jungles not so long ago.
In minutes, they were in a different place, one that was quite similar to the massive milling of the Trading Post, but quite different as well. There was a stage with a podium at the front, where a huge assortment of items was presented, more being added each moment. Standing upon the podium was a blue Scorchio with a mallet, looking around and quickly accepting offers from a harried crowd. Uroj realized that he was going to be sold again.
The Skeith came forward to a Gelert who was standing beside a doorway, bearing an air of one who seemed quite wealthy and well off. “I would like to auction this krawk, please,” said the Skeith politely.
“Very well, sir,” said the Gelert with an elegant nod. “How much, what increment, neofriends only?”
The Skeith paused in thought, and the petpet sincerely wished to bite him if he had the courage to do so. Instead, he sat there, pitiful and whimpering, awaiting judgment. “How about five million, five hundred thousand increment.”
“No neofriends only?”
“Of course not,” spat the Skeith in disgust but then replaced his scowl with a sickeningly sweet smile.
“Yes, of course,” said the Gelert and stretched out his hands to accept me.
His arms were stiff and Uroj watched anxiously as he put him on display near the front. “Don’t move now,” he said sternly, “or I will have to cage you. You do not want that.”
The krawk nodded vigorously and watched as his stand kept moving forward as auctions were finished. He was put up for an hour, and watched as neopets came forward to offer on him. The price rose tremendously near the end, and he spotted the Skeith who sold him, who did not care for him, grinning evilly near the back, waiting for his neopoints.
Neopoints! Was it all about neopoints?
A sense of greed... pure, heartless avarice? Was that what everyone saw in him? Neopoints? Uroj felt depressed at the fact. All he wanted was a home. A place where he could be safe from evil Grarrls and hissing reptilliors. It seemed that he would forever be a simple thing: a token that would be exchanged from one pet to the next, floating forever, unwanted.
At last Uroj hit eleven million, and the crowd began to disperse. The Skeith was squirming with glee at his success, but the krawk petpet was hardly so.
Thirty seconds left.
No one took any interest in him, for he was already at such a high price that few could afford to bid. While the krawk was waiting for the recent bidder to accept his reward and probably sell him again, Uroj spotted someone looking at his depressed visage with pity.
“Going once!” the Scorchio called.
The watcher, an alien Aisha, dug into her pocket.
She lifted her hand.
Before ‘Sold!’ could be uttered, she placed a bid of eleven million, five hundred thousand neopoints.
The auction for the krawk was over a second later. The Skeith leaped up to collect his due; the Aisha went forward to take her own. Uroj was stunned by the change of events, but was suspicious: perhaps the Aisha would sell him like the two pets before? The Scorchio handed the krawk to her and then continued with another auction.
“Hello, krawk! My name is Rijoz, but you can call me just Joz. What is your name?”
“U-uroj,” was the reply.
“That is a nice name. I couldn’t help but buy you, you are so cute!” The Aisha twitched her four ears in unison and began to pet his head. It was quite pleasurable, and Uroj began to nod and a rumble formed in his throat in appreciation.
“Come on now, let’s go to the Fungus Caves!”
Uroj blinked, and the nagging fear returned like an ice pick, spreading waves of cold in his heart. Was this another selling place? Was all this kindness just a lie? Before he could protest, the Aisha quickly arrived at a new place. It was gloomy and gray, with the cries of parakeets as they circled in the foggy sky. Ships were berthed upon the docks, bobbing up and down in the dark waves that seemed to stretch into the beyond. There were no voices, but there was the strange pattering of feet.
Suddenly, as if by call, a young looking Bruce waddled into the scene. He wore the pirate garb: a patchy blue bandana stretched around his head, along with a brown shirt that seemed torn in many places from frequent use, as well as a bright crimson fabric that surrounded his waist in the fashion of a belt. “’Ello thar, miss. Need some ‘elp?”
The Aisha nodded. “Can you tell me where the Fungus Caves are?”
The Bruce seemed lost in thought, but whether that was true or false was unknown. “I know ‘em fella, Barbhook, who’s standing by the ship down thar, the Golden Wocky. He’ll know where them Caves are.”
Joz smiled and thanked the Bruce, who waved with a sweet grin as she walked down the harbor. As they searched for the ship in question, Uroj leaned over and tugged one of her ears, pointing down at her belt. Joz felt her leg and then groaned. “That Bruce took my coin-purse!”
A soft laugh rose from behind them.
“Aye, lil’ Flapfoot tends to do that.” Both heads turned to behold a pirate Krawk, a pet Krawk, who was watching them carefully.
“...Are you Barbhook?”
“Aye.” The Krawk nodded and revealed his hook, which was covered with barbs, hence his name.
Uroj was stunned by the sheer presence of this Krawk. Was it possible that they were one and the same? “Do you know where the Fungus Caves are?” asked Joz.
“I can take you there,” was the reply, and then a sharp eye gave Uroj a cursory glance. “I can see why.”
Joz nodded and the twosome began to follow Barbhook as he took a path that forked out of the harbor road into the mainland. The land itself was steep and treacherous as they climbed, but Barbhook seemed to be quite proficient. Uroj wondered if he was leading them astray, but when the alien Aisha breathed a sigh of relief and looked up at a huge, yawning cave not that far away, he realized that he was wrong.
“There be them Fungus Caves,” announced Barbhook with a swish of his tail and a grin. “Enjoy, yeh?”
“Thank you!” cried Rijoz, and rushed towards the caves. A tricking stream weaved out and traveled elsewhere, so they took to the edges of the cave system to keep from being wet.
It was quite dark, darker than night, and a musty smell hung in the air like a thick blanket. Uroj was frightened and uncertain. It did not look like a selling place – he could not hear any voices calling for price checks and screaming out the benefits of their wares. Maybe Joz would abandon him here? The thought made his eyes widen and he shook it away. The Aisha seemed too nice to do such a thing... but... so was Gelu.
A suffocating darkness enveloped them when the light from the cave entrance finally disappeared, and every single sound seemed amplified; from Joz’s breathing to the drip drop of moisture somewhere in the distance. Even the soft trickle of water from the stream sounded like a muted roar in their ears. Uroj lifted his hand and it brushed against something soft. He instinctively recoiled, but his curiosity was piqued and he reached out again to grab the softness. His eyes did not see it, but he felt it. The object was squishy, and it smelled good. Maybe it was food? With a ginger bite, he swallowed and felt an overwhelming desire for more.
“I think we are almost there,” announced Joz quietly, her echo responding through the cave system.
Suddenly, Uroj felt himself twitch. Joz cried out with surprise and dropped the krawk upon the cold, black stone, where he twitched and writhed. What was going on? The krawk had no time to think, for his body began to grow in size. His claws became longer, and hair began to form upon his head. He tried to cry for help, but his voice was but a garbled mess and he could utter nothing but a frightened groan. A few seconds passed, and he felt the miraculous transformation finally stop.
“U-uroj, are you okay...?” whispered Joz.
A few more seconds, and Uroj lifted his limbs to raise himself. “Yeah, I think so...” he said hoarsely, and then blinked with surprise. He could talk?
He could talk!
“Come on,” whispered Joz. “Let’s get out of here so I can see you.”
Uroj nodded dumbly, even though he knew that the Aisha would not be able to see the gesture. Following the path the same way they came, the twosome sped up their pace when they spotted a bright light coming from the distant cave entrance. It was not long until they arrived, and were met with an extremely blinding light. It took Uroj a while to regain his sight, and when the light faded, he saw everything with a surprising clarity.
“You look amazing!” cried Rijoz, jumping up with joy.
In response, the new Krawk rushed over to a nearby pool of still, albeit stagnant water to look at his dimly visible visage, and was stunned. He had a long snout, longer than before, and a mop of hair stretched out and back from the top of his head. His eyes were bigger, his teeth and claws were much bigger, and he felt better than he ever had in his life. Was it the magic of the stuff he ate? Was that the cause of his metamorphosis? Uroj had no time to ponder, for he was suddenly the object of a hug.
Rijoz grinned eagerly and twitched her ears in unison, something which seemed to be a habit. “I can’t wait to show you to your new sisters! They will be so glad to see you! When I told them about you before your auction ended, they were so excited! And you should see your new home! It is in Mystery Island... and... and...”
Her voice trailed off in the head of the green Krawk as his gaze faded into a far-away look. Home? At long last... a home?
He turned the word over in his tongue, and found it sweet.