Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 180,588,809 Issue: 410 | 18th day of Gathering, Y11
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Extreme Difficulty: Part Three


by iris220_ll

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"I've got it," a voice says. "I have the key."

      Jenna.

      I tense, watching as the Kacheek's silhouette moves closer - and becomes darker. The window's thin, lace curtains are pulled open, so a gentle pool of moonlight splashes onto the floor. But I'm sitting on the fresh bamboo bed, hidden in shadow, away from the light that looks so much like a Safety Zone. Suddenly, I hear ragged, torn breathing. The breathing is frightened. Where's it coming from? Is that Jenna?

      Oh. It's me.

      "Relax," Jenna coos, and for a single second I think she's Kim. I do relax, and her paw rests on my shoulder. But then I remember. That I'm trapped in this room with this Kacheek who deeply despises me, and she's going to give me the key to being freed from my cage, free of my beauty - both a curse and a blessing. When I realize that it's not Kim, I instinctively move away in one, sharp movement.

      I know that Jenna's frowning now, her paw in mid-air. I'm trembling in fear now.

      "Sorry," I say quietly, but the word sounds like gibberish.

      Jenna doesn't reply and places her paw back on my shoulder, rubbing the sharp shoulder blade there.

      "You're so skinny," she says, her voice a sneer.

      Her paw slides off my shoulder, and then Jenna slowly moves something towards my mouth. I pull away, frightened.

      "What is it?" I ask, pressing my back against the chair. Even in the darkness, I can sense Jenna frowning, the paw gripping whatever she is holding in mid-air.

      "It's the key. You have to drink it."

      "I don't want to drink it," I whisper.

      "You have to!"

      Jenna shoves the bottle in my direction. The cork is off, and I let out a soft squeal as liquid splashes onto my lap. It's cold and hot at the same time; it seeps through my dress, burning and freezing my legs like acid. Glass shatters on the ground, the high-pitched squeal piercing the silence in the room like an explosion. Was that poison? Jenna mutters something under her breath and walks back to the shelf. She has more? My ragged breathing worsens as I turn around and run my claws along the wall, searching for something in desperation before Jenna came back. I found it.

      The light switch clicks, and the room is suddenly brightly illuminated. The acidic burning has left my legs, but they are still a little numb. The bright white light is blinding at first, but soon, my eyes adjust. Jenna lets out a sigh as she picks a bottle of the shelf. She seems oblivious to the light. I look at her eyes - they seem transfixed, in another world far away from here. It is like she is in a trance. I look down at my dress. It was pink before, a soft, rosey-colored pink, but now there is a huge, ugly splotch on it that is a mix of yellow and brown.

      I look at the ground.

      There is shattered glass on the ground, as expected. But that's not all. There is also this disgusting yellow-and-brown mixture, icky and sticky and gross. There is also a yellowish tail... and a pair of brown ears? And then I realize it. I've seen it at the Trading Post, that one time when Ari was looking for an item to feed one of the Kadoaties - a bottle with a yellow tail, brown ears, and that same liquid. "Ew," I had said. Kim and Key had laughed. Jenna had rolled her eyes. Suddenly, it is obvious.

      It is a Gnorbu Transmogrification Potion.

      "No," I whisper, then shriek: "No!"

      Jenna turns around and faces me. She's holding another one of those potions.

      "What?" she barks.

      "What are you trying to do?" Tears bud in my eyes. Don't cry, don't cry. "Turn me into a monster?" My voice rises and the tears gush out. Suddenly I'm sobbing, too. Jenna narrows her eyes. The hatred burns like fire in those dark blue depths.

      "Is that what you think of mutants?" she said, her voice rising. "Great Fyora! You're terrible. A coward. You're beautiful and have a wonderful name, you have loving siblings and a loving mom. But listen to yourself. You think that just because someone's a mutant, they can't be sweet? They can't be loving? Great Fyora! Great Fyora!" She throws the bottle to the ground. It shatters loudly.

      I've never seen her so angry. Ever.

      "I hate you! You don't understand anything! You've got it all, but you take it for granted! So what, you have a bunch of traders after you? You have a family. A family that loves you. A family that can protect you. Great Fyora! And you can't appreciate any of it! Any of it! All you do is wail and cry and be comforted! And you're so shallow! You don't deserve anything you have! I - I - I hate - "

      She stops. She's breathing raggedly, and I realize she's out of breath. I've stopped crying, too busy listening to each word. But the tears are still streaking down my cheeks, down my scales.

      And then I realize that Jenna has tears of her own.

      "You don't understand," she whispers, facing away from me. "You'd never understand. Not someone like you." But she doesn't sound like she's talking to me. She sounds like she's talking to someone who's not there. Either that, or herself.

      I'm trembling. And then I start sobbing, again.

      "I'm sorry!" I shout, but then I'm sobbing too much to speak anymore.

      Bang!

      My body tenses. So does Jenna's. Someone is banging on the door.

      Bang! Bang! Bang!

      There's the audible shattering of wood, and suddenly I'm thrown off the bed and land on the shiny, dark wooden floor. I'm trembling, crying, and sobbing on the floor as the door cracks in half. The bed is split into countless pieces and thrown across the room; so is the chair and the table. Standing in the doorway among the wounded pieces of wood is Kim. Kim. Not Key. Kim.

      Key is standing behind her, his eyes blazing like flames. Kim's eyes are blazing, too. Angry. They look to me, first, then to Jenna. I sit up and look at her, too. She's staring at Kim and Key, but there is no hatred or anger in her eyes. No spite or bitterness. Her eyes are glazed, empty, vacant.

      "Take me away," she says, holding up her paws, "I surrender. Drag me to the Pound. Hand me over to Sloth. I give up. Go ahead. I confess."

      Great Fyora.

      She's given up.

      She's really given up. Jenna, who's hated me for years and has executed countless attempts to get rid of me, is giving up? This isn't happening. It's too weird, too strange, too impossible. I shiver, but it's not cold.

      Kim takes in a deep breath. She hops over the splinters and scoops me into her arms, like she always does. She hugs me tightly, squeezing me. But it feels so pointless. I recall Jenna's words, how she said I was always comforted all the time. What was I comforted for? Being hunted down by traders? It didn't seem like something to be worth being pitied for. In a way, it was almost pathetic.

      Finding the strength inside me, I break free of Kim's grip. I can tell she's shocked, her arms still open, as if she can't believe I hopped out of her arms. As if I was going to come back and fall back into them.

      I rush over to Jenna, standing right in front of her. She looks up at me, and I see her eyes. Different. Ghostly. She's practically screamed her soul out.

      Kim is calling my name. I can hear her, but she sounds like she's so far away. In another world, far away from Neopia. I hear Key calling for Ari. I curl my claws into fists. Jenna's right. I'm a coward. I take everything for granted. But I want to change. I've read a lot of books; I'm an Ultimate Genius. And in all those sappy tales, characters can change, right? From good to bad? From bad to good? From kind to cruel? From cowardly to brave?

      I once read a book called The Cowardly Tuskaninny. It was the first book I had ever read. The main character, Jared, was scared of pretty much everything, even his own shadow. That story didn't have a happy ending. It ended with him losing his friends and being put in the Pound by his owner - Great Fyora, he was even scared of his owner. I remember the last lines clearly - "And little Jared watched as Dr. Death closed the door to his cage. He was still scared. Scared of Dr. Death, scared of being trapped. Scared that he would never be leaving the Pound and being happy again, ever."

      I want this story - my story - to have a happy ending. I'm The Cowardly Draik. I want to break free of my cage.

      I look at Kim. She's staring at the ground. I take in a deep breath and put my claws on her shoulders. She called me skinny; but she's skinnier. Her shoulder blades are so sharp.

      "I'm sorry," I say.

      And then I hug her. Tightly. Her body is as stiff as board. She doesn't recoil in disgust or swat me away. She just stands as still as a statue as I hug her, as if she's my sister.

      Because she is.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Extreme Difficulty: Part One
» Extreme Difficulty: Part Two
» Extreme Difficulty: Part Four



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