Stronghammer, a Camouflage Krawk, glared out the window of his Neohome, arms crossed. The rain was falling harder, and the lightning illuminated the sky. He sighed and put his head in his hands.
He was supposed to prove everybody wrong today. He was supposed to show Neopia that he could do it, that he wasn't a scaredy-Kougra. He was supposed to show them that he was just as strong and brave as all his friends.
He was supposed to prove that he could travel to the Lair of the Beast in Tyrannia and make it out unscathed. Few had done it, he'd been told. None of his friends made it out without a scratch, yet they called him a Chia for being scared. He wasn't scared; he was just being smart. No one sane would actually want to visit the Beast.
Stronghammer had heard stories about the Beast, as well as all the descriptions of what it looked like. None sounded good to him.
"It looks like a mutated Pteri!" said some.
"It looked like Dr. Sloth died and came back alive!" said others.
"Oh wow, I didn't even get a good look at it—I was running for my life! But what I did see, it was huge and red with many scars!"
"I heard it eats some of the Neopets in Tyrannia... That's why Tyrannia's population is slowly dwindling!"
It's not like he actually believed all those stories. He doubted that the Beast actually ate other Neopets—that was probably the stupidest rumor he had heard—but he knew the Beast was scary. He knew that it wasn't exactly smart to climb in there on a dare.
But he was going to do it. Stronghammer wouldn't let his friends tell the whole Neoschool that he was too afraid to at least try. He'd be made fun of nonstop because, apparently, no one ever got scared. Stronghammer furrowed his eyebrows in frustration. Why couldn't they just let him be scared? Is there really something wrong with being afraid of something, something that Neopets should be afraid of? It wasn't called a Beast for nothing.
Stronghammer turned, feigning a smile when he realized it was his owner. He hadn't told her that he was going to the Lair of the Beast. He knew that she wouldn't allow him to go. "Hey, Phroto."
She sat down beside him. "You aren't really thinking about meeting your friends in Tyrannia in this weather, are you? It's dangerous."
He rolled his eyes. "Of course I am. We're just going to get some burgers—Tyrannian style. I doubt it's even storming in Tyrannia anyway."
Phroto looked doubtful. "I don't know—"
"Phroto, I haven't seen Foxleap in such a long time. We made plans for today and today only. I won't let weather stop me from visiting him in his home."
"All right, whatever you say, Stronghammer. You're not called Stronghammer for nothing, right?" She smiled at her own joke. "Just take an umbrella with you, and I'll see you at dinner-time. Don't be late." She handed him her blue umbrella before heading back into the kitchen.
"Yeah, if I don't die first," Stronghammer mumbled, grabbing the umbrella and walking out the door.
Stronghammer stood outside the Tyrannian Food shop, staring up at the Chomby-shaped building. They were all waiting for him in there, he knew it. He sighed, shaking the raindrops from the umbrella. He was lucky—it wasn't raining in Tyrannia.
He opened the door to be greeted by everyone he knew.
"Hey, Stronghammer!" cheered some.
"Yo, you made it! I thought you chickened out," said others.
"Ha, well, well, he's actually here."
Stronghammer gave a half-smile and sat at the nearest booth with Invader, a Baby Grundo, and Shadow, a Shadow Aisha. He couldn't believe how crowded it was; it was as if the entire Neoschool was here.
"You ready?" Foxleap, a Mutant Kau, asked as he slithered over to his booth, handing him a Meat A La Twig. "Almost everyone is here. There hasn't been this much excitement since Galbatorix and Glaedr became friends."
"As ready as I'll ever be," Stronghammer said glumly, snatching the meat and taking a bite. "Tell everyone to come on. I don't want to stay in Tyrannia any longer than I have to."
"That's the spirit," Foxleap said, clubbing him on the back. "Come on, everybody! The Krawk's ready to visit the Beast!"
The Tyrannian Kacheek at the shop counter looked up quickly. "Ughh, yoo goin' to the Beast, lad? Ugg, be careful. Reckless young'uns, ugga ugg."
"Don't listen to the old Tyrannian, Stronghammer," Galbatorix, a Royalboy Kyrii, said, coming up behind Stronghammer. "All the Tyrannians say to avoid the Beast, but they're just saying that to keep everyone from waking the Beast up. The Beast gets a bit loud when Neopets come into his cave." Galbatorix grinned.
Glaedr, a Gold Draik, laughed. "You got that right, Galbatorix! I remember when I woke that Beast up—man, I think the whole of Tyrannia was an angry mob!"
Stronghammer shook his head, annoyed with everyone. These were his friends? "Thanks, you guys; that really makes me want to go."
Stronghammer stood on the Tyrannian Plateau, glaring at the cave on the cliff. "Do I really have to go up there?" he asked, turning to face the crowd of Neopets.
"Of course you do!" a voice shouted. "You aren't scared, are you Stronghammer? Don't be a Chia! You're a Krawk! You shouldn't be scared of anything!"
Stronghammer turned and glared at the Purple Eyrie that shouted that. So Krawks weren't supposed to be scared of anything?
What was wrong with being scared?
"You can do it," Galbatorix said, patting him on the back. He looked around quickly, and leaned forward, whispering, "You know, Stronghammer, I never actually visited the Beast. No one here has. We just wanted to see someone go."
"You what?" Stronghammer asked, bewildered. So his friends were name-callers and liars? That's great. What else didn't he know about them? "And you still expect me to go up there?"
"Yep!" Galbatorix smiled, shoving him up the cliff. "Come on, sport. Don't look at me like that. You didn't really think we went up there, did you?"
"Of course I did!" Stronghammer shouted, whirling around to face Galbatorix. "You all lied to me? What kind of friends are you? Are you trying to get me killed?"
Galbatorix looked shocked. "No, Stronghammer. You won't die. The Beast doesn't actually eat Neopets." He paused, a mischievous grin forming on his face. "And you won't back out now. Too many Neopets are here—even the villagers. Peer pressure at its finest, y'know?"
Stronghammer growled. "I can back out if I want to, Galbatorix. I don't care what everyone thinks. If they didn't even visit the Beast, how can they look down on me?"
Galbatorix laughed quietly. "You don't get it, do you, Stronghammer? This is like a coming-of-age thing. You're the only one, uh, stupid enough to agree to coming here without a fight. Now that you're here—with probably all of the Neoschool and the villagers watching—you wouldn't want to disappoint, would you? You'd be considered the biggest scaredy-Kougra in all of our Neoschool history. Some of the Neopets that are here... Let's just say that you wouldn't want to have wasted their time, eh? They aren't the forgiving type." Galbatorix gave an evil grin before shoving him up to the entrance of the cave and running down. "Don't you dare come back down here till you go into that cave, Stronghammer!" he threatened.
Stronghammer couldn't believe what he had heard. Did Galbatorix—his friend—threaten him if he didn't go into the Lair? He gulped, looking down at everyone that was here. Galbatorix was right—it seemed like everyone in all of Neopia was down there.
If he didn't go into the cave, he would be made fun of for sure. Was being bullied worse than possibly being hurt in a dangerous, unexplored cave? Could he handle the social and psychological mess that awaited him at the bottom of the cliff if he refused to go into the cave? Was it worth... getting hurt?
He stood there for what seemed like centuries (though it had to have been merely minutes) before making up his mind.
He would go into the Lair of the Beast. He hoped that Phroto understood his decision.
Invader looked up at the cave and watched his brother enter the Lair. "He's actually going in!" he shouted, his eyes blazing. "What is he doing, Galbatorix? What did you tell him?"
"He's actually going up there?" Foxleap asked, worried.
"Whoa, why is he going there? Tell him to come down!" Glaedr screamed.
Worried mumbling followed Glaedr's shout.
Galbatorix feigned a shocked expression. "I don't know! I told him that he wasn't actually supposed to go in there. He was supposed to come back down here and join us at Foxleap's house for his 'Welcome to Neoschool' party."
"Well, go get him!" Invader said, shoving Galbatorix. "I never trusted you to begin with, not after what you did to Glaedr."
"I'm not going up there!" Galbatorix said, shoving the Baby Grundo off of him. "If you're so scared for your brother, go get him yourself. You're probably too late anyway. He's got to be in the cave by now—"
Galbatorix broke off when a piercing roar shook the village.
Stronghammer entered the cave slowly. The only sound was his footsteps and water dripping down onto the hard rock floor. He took a deep breath—he would be fine.
He spotted an old rope up ahead and grabbed it. It was coarse and covered in cobwebs. Stronghammer bit back a gasp of disgust and started to climb it, shaking violently. He tried to keep his head clear of all thoughts—he would be fine.
At the end of the rope, he entered a small cavern. There was a small exit up ahead with sharp rocks bulging from the sides.
He almost fainted when he heard the breathing.
The Beast was in there and Stronghammer was going toward it.
Stronghammer stepped forward lightly, barely daring to breathe. The fear within him was breathtaking. He didn't know that a Neopet could feel this much fear. He felt as if a wall of darkness was descending upon him. He took a deep, shaky breath and stepped through the exit.
Stronghammer fell to the ground in fear and scrambled against the wall. Great Fyora! What the heck is that thing? "Don't hurt me, please!" Stronghammer screamed, cowering against the wall. "Please, for the love of Fyora, don't hurt me! I'll leave, I promise I'll leave!" Stronghammer started to sob, and covered his eyes with his hands. He didn't want to see the thing that would eat him.
He didn't want to see his death.
He sobbed, his whole body shaking violently with the vibrations the Beast was making. He cried for his foolhardiness, his foolishness that peer pressure forced him in this position. He should've known better than to come.
Stronghammer heard the sound of claws on stone and started sobbing harder. Whatever the Beast was, it was coming for him.
He felt the hot breath of the Beast on his neck, but Stronghammer didn't dare look up. He cried and cried, hoping to Fyora that the Beast would just go away.
Yooooouu daaare enter myyy caaaaverrrn, Neoooopeettt?
Stronghammer looked up at the Beast and screamed at the sight. It was a large, mutated Pteri, with saliva dripping from its beak. Its eyes were pale—he guessed it was blind. Scares lined its head and wings, and large talons erupted from its feet. "No, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Please, I'll—I'll leave! I—I promise I'll go!"
Yoooou thiiiink I'll juuuuussttt leeeeet yoooou leeeeaaaveee? Afffterr waaaaaking meeee?
"Please!" Stronghammer begged, lying on his stomach. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
Stronghammer covered his ears as another roar echoed around the small cavern. Ahhh, yoooouu'rrree sorrrryyyy?
"Yes! I'm—I'm sorry!" he sobbed.
The Beast was quiet for a moment, but Stronghammer soon felt the Beast's beak on the top of his head. Stronghammer suppressed a shiver as he felt the blade-like point touch his skin.
Gooooooo, the Beast said.
Stronghammer looked up in shock. "What—what did you say?"
Goooo. I dooooon't eeaaatt Neeeoopeeets.
Stronghammer didn't wait another moment. "Thank you, Beast, goodness, thank you!" He scrabbled to his feet and jumped down the hole he came up, streaking past the rope, and ran out back onto the cliff. He fell to the ground, sobbing. He could see the sky.
He heard cheers come from below as the Neopets saw him come out.
Then he fainted.
Stronghammer woke in the Neopian Hospital. The bright lights of the room almost blinded him. "Wh—what am I doing here?" he asked groggily.
The Gelert Doctor came over to him. "Ah, glad to see you're awake. You gave us all a scare, Stronghammer. That you did." He wrote a few things on his clipboard. "You're good to go home now. Your owner is waiting outside."
And with that, the Doctor was gone.
Stronghammer wearily crawled out of the hospital bed, surprised as he felt his strength return. The Doctor must've given him some medicine. He left his room and walked out the hospital's front door to a cacophony of noise.
"Thank Fyora, Stronghammer!"
Stronghammer blinked against the harsh sunlight and almost fell over as Phroto hugged him. "You're okay! You had me so worried! What in the world of Neopia were you thinking?"
"I—I—" Stronghammer broke off as he realized that he was alive. He went to the Lair of the Beast and came out alive!
"I know, I know, Stronghammer," Phroto said softly. "It's okay. The whole of Neopia has heard about you now! You're the only Neopet to ever come back from the Lair of the Beast!"
Stronghammer shook his head. He couldn't believe it. He was. "I know... I know. And it's Galbatorix's fault," he said harshly.
"We know, Stronghammer. Invader and Glaedr and almost everyone told us. Galbatorix has been taken care of. I thought he changed after he and Glaedr became friends, but his old evilness came back out. Don't you worry about anything but getting better," Phroto said, hugging him again.
"Thank Fyora," Stronghammer said. "Galbatorix is almost as bad as Sloth. He must work for him..."
Phroto laughed. "I'm glad you're still you, Stronghammer, but don't you dare do anything like that again! What in the world possessed you to listen to Galbatorix?"
Stronghammer laughed bitterly. "Peer pressure, as they call it. And Galbatorix is a pretty good liar."
Phroto shook her head. "Don't ever give in to peer pressure again, Stronghammer. It can do nothing to you unless you take it to heart."
Phroto smiled. "I'm just glad you're okay. There's just one question..." she trailed off, looking at him curiously.
"What?" Stronghammer asked, wondering for an instant if something about him changed. He had changed, he felt. He would never give in to peer pressure again. He faced death and survived. He faced fear itself. Or did he?
Was it fear he faced? The Beast wasn't dangerous—it was blind and ugly, and that's why it lived in a cave, hiding away from the rest of Neopia. It didn't eat Neopets. It was all rumors.
"What did the Beast do?" Phroto asked softly.
The crowd grew quiet.
Stronghammer smiled. "It taught me a lesson: Fear is only in the mind. The only thing to fear really is fear itself."
Thanks for reading! I do hope that you enjoyed this story. Everyone needs to remember two simple but important things: don't give into peer pressure, and the only thing to fear is fear itself. :) ~Phroto