Lani and the Beast: Part Five
Quavering, Lani crouched down and shuffled backwards until she was back in the safe veil of the jungle. From the safety of a large fern, she stared in shock at the small settlement. The huts reminded her of the huts in Geraptiku, primitive, definitely native, and- she realized suddenly- abandoned. There was no sign of life in the whole clearing, and after staring at the huts for a while, Lani realized that they were even more dilapidated than the huts in Geraptiku. These huts were ready and waiting to fall apart.
Lani gulped and crept forward again, feeling small and vulnerable. After a moment’s hesitation, she shot forward to the back outside wall of the nearest hut. Trying to keep to its shadows as much as possible, she snuck to the hut’s doorway, and after listening for what seemed like forever, summed up her courage and looked inside. Empty. The room was completely empty, and the untouched floor indicated that no one had been inside for years. Grass was even growing up in the patches where the roof had fallen apart, now letting in patches of moonlight. Lani panted in relief, but nevertheless took a step back. Even without vicious inhabitants, the native ruins were still creepy. She was considering checking the rest of the huts when a squeal shook the clearing; it was Minnie again! Lani snatched the spade out of her mouth and whipped around, tracing Minnie’s screech to the other end of the abandoned village. Minnie’s high-pitched growling continued as Lani abandoned all of her doubts and logical worries and ran as fast as she could to her petpet’s aid.
Lani had scarcely attuned her ears to Minnie’s growls, coming from the largest hut at the exact opposite end of the clearing, when she heard another growl. It was deeper, and really half a hiss, and a LOT louder. It came in short, quick snarls, and after just two outbursts, Lani heard Minnie bark, and a scuffle broke out. Hisses and roars were inlaid with the thudding of two creatures grappling on the dirt floor. Lani skidded to a halt right in the door of the hut just in time to see It,
the shadowy creature with huge yellow eyes,
slam a rusty, shabby metal bucket over Minnie. Lani couldn’t see it clearly in the darkness of the hut, but that what she could see was not a pretty sight. It was a little bit bigger than she was, one of its yellow eyes were crooked, and its large, round ears were covered in notches and nicks. Securing the bucket with one hand, it clutched at its trembling right leg with the other, indicating that Minnie had put up quite a fight. And it reeked. The whole hut reeked of rotting vegetation and a strange, dirty earthy-moldy smell. It crouched, still pinning down the bucket, and stared at Lani, eyes wide with shock. Lani’s eyes were wide with horror, and not just because of the creature. Behind it, at the back of the hut, Lani could barely make out the shapes of seven large pots, and she could hear tiny Primella-sized splashes from inside them.
All of Lani’s plans of heroism vanished instantly. There was NO WAY that she could face the- the creature down and win. Every instinct told her to run for her life, and Lani could think of nothing better to do, armed against a creature much stronger than her with only a small garden spade that she used to move small flowers. Lani dropped the spade, bolted out of the hut- then out of the clearing- and, dropping back down on all fours, let pure terror take her all the way home.
Lani sprinted across the garden and into her neohome, slamming the back door and locking it behind her. She didn’t even think to wake Jean; would even Jean, her owner, be able to handle that thing? Lani sent a very, very urgent neomail straight to the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters. In mere minutes, it would land in the box labeled “EMERGENCY,” and someone would be dispatched to her house. Lani was safe.
But what about Minnie? As her terror subsided, Lani remembered the over-turned pot with Minnie inside. She had gone through all of that trouble only to chicken out and to fail her beloved pet. Who knew what the creature would do with her? Lani knew that she would probably never see Minnie again.
“Minnie,” Lani sobbed, slumping onto the floor in shock and exhaustion. “I’m so sorry!”
“Grrrrrrarrrrr!” A high-pitched snarl came from the garden.
“Minnie?” Lani hesitated to open the door for fear that the creature would be there as well. She crept up to the petpet door and locked that, too. “Minnie?”
“Grrrrrarf! Rrrrarf!” Minnie responded enthusiastically. Lani shivered. The creature was probably out there, maybe not right in the garden, but somewhere outside the comfort of her neohome. What did it want? It had taken her petpets; was she next? As she listened to Minnie’s irritated growls, Lani pulled herself together enough to feel the shame of having left her petpet behind once. It was the shame of a queen. She had put herself before her pet and before her people, and it wouldn’t happen twice. Lani had gone into the forest as a queen determined to fight, and she was still a queen. She reached out to yank the door back for a daring rescue, one that would awe the Defenders of Neopia when they arrived, and then something knocked.
Lani froze. That couldn’t have been Minnie; the knock was too solid and loud. She doubted that it was the DoN. Why would they come in through the back? Besides, even Lightning Lenny couldn’t get from Neopia Central to Mystery Island that quickly.
“Knock. Knock. Knock.” Lani immediately thought about the creature. What else would be lurking in her back yard in the middle of the night? That thing was out there, and Lani was certain that it was trying to lure her out and grab her, as well. But Lani’s thoughts were mixed. What kind of monster would knock? “I am a queen,” Lani thought to herself. And what would a queen do when she has visitors, visitors who knock at her door, civilly and politely requesting her presence? Anyone, not just a queen, would open the door. And so, hesitating but caught in an automatic assumption by the knock, Lani turned on the outside lights, illuminating the steps and the back door. Then, very, very carefully, she opened the door a tiny crack.
Lani’s rusted bucket, covered with a woven grass lid, sat on the top step. It rocked back and forth as Minnie scratched at her makeshift cage and whined from time to time. Next to the bucket was Lani’s spade. Lani almost didn’t notice them because shuffling awkwardly under the light at the bottom of the steps was the creature, this time no longer veiled by shadows. It blinked under the light bulbs and narrowed its eyes at their brightness, and as Lani opened the door, it jumped. It was, Lani realized with a gasp, almost as frightened as she was.
It had navy blue fur and large, blunt, protruding buck teeth. Its paw nails were jagged and dirty, and his tail was a bare, pink, and as thin as yarn. Its glowing eyes and strong, rank smell confirmed his identity. Lani opened the door a little more to look at her “monster,” and the mutant Xweetok shrank back a little, but didn’t flee. A mutant Xweetok! Lani tried to remind herself that it could still be dangerous, but it was so much better than the horror she had expected that it didn’t scare her at all. Emboldened by surprise and curiosity, Lani stuck her whole head out of the door. For a time that Lani would continually dispute was well over fifteen minutes, each stared at the opposite, wondering if the other was going to attack, but doubting it.
“Grrrrarrrrr!” Minnie’s growling broke the silence at last. Lani paused. Minnie was a good distance away from the door, and even though the monster wasn’t something out of the deserted tomb, she wasn’t about to let her guard down entirely. The mutant seemed to notice, and it slowly reached out and pushed the pail closer to Lani. As soon as it was within reach, Lani grabbed in and pulled it inside. Minnie yipped in greeting as her owner tore off the grass lid.
“Minnie!” Lani hugged her feepit and searched her for injuries. Minnie didn’t have a single scratch. She was a little bit dusty from her quarrel with the mutant Xweetok, but otherwise fine. “You’re safe!” Minnie squealed in agreement, happy to be back in her owner’s arms.
Lani gasped, set Minnie down, and turned her full attention back to the mutant. It- no, Lani corrected herself after hearing the deep voice- he talked with a lisp, probably because of his teeth.
“Shorry,” he repeated.
To be continued...