A House Divided Cannot Stand: Part One
The guard frowned as he opened the cell door, looking at the blue Gelert inside with a look of distaste. The Gelert merely stood up, dusted herself off and calmly, even proudly, walked out of the cell. The guard lead her away along the corridor, careful to keep an eye on her at all times. The metal door hit the wall with an echoing clang behind them.
The dungeon keeper, an old and grizzled green Draik by the name of Calan, was standing at the dungeon exit and talking to two guards there. He looked around as the blue Gelert approached and glared at her.
"Hey, you," he said gruffly, "I better not be seeing you in here again, you understand?"
"Yessir," she said. It was a lie, and everyone knew it.
"You're lucky that we couldn't prove that it was you," Calan muttered. "We'd have kept you here no problem."
"She'll be back soon enough," a tall Ixi guard muttered. Calan snorted.
"Just go," he said to Zeru. The Gelert smirked.
"Why, thanks," she said, already walking out of the door. She squinted in the bright light outside. "I was planning to."
"One last thing," Calan called after her. "Your owner's waiting."
Zeru froze. Her tail twitched and her ears began to pin back; for a moment Calan thought that the Gelert was going to erupt.
The moment passed, and she continued walking, striding away from the dungeon with a bounce in her step. Calan shook his head and turned back to the guards.
"I hate that Gelert," he muttered. He sent a challenging glare to the assembled guards. "And this time, I want no betting on how long it'll take her to get back."
Moondatta looked around the market place and smiled faintly at the crowds of people there. She could always rely on Meridell to cheer her up when no one else could. There was always something to be seen, always something to do, and she loved just walking around and watching the city.
The Aisha caught sight of her reflection in a shop window and sighed. She pulled the hood of her jacket further over her head to hide her mutated face.
"Hey, there you are," someone said, putting a paw on her shoulder. Moondatta turned around and looked up at her brother, a magma Kougra with glowing amber eyes. Ben smiled at her and handed her an ice cream. "Here. Next time you wonder off, you could at least warn me so that I don't look like an idiot walking around the market place by myself."
"Sorry," Moondatta mumbled. She smiled as she looked at the ice cream. It was just how she liked it – with a chocolate cone and a strawberry placed on top. "Thanks."
"No problem," Ben said with a grin. "Let's go. The park?"
"Yeah, sounds good," Moondatta said quietly. Ben licked his own ice cream and led the way, wandering slowly along the bustling streets of Meridell City.
The Park on the edge of the city was wide and green. Bright flowers dotted the meadows as far as the eye could see, and pets were strolling and rambling through the fields in the warm spring air. A couple of petpets played in the bushes, chirping happily.
"You know, you don't have to hide," Ben said after a while. Moondatta shrank further into the thick layers of clothing which hid her appearance. "There's nothing wrong with you."
"I'm a mutant," Moondatta mumbled despondently. "I can't walk around like this."
"Other people do," Ben said, nodding towards a tall mutant Lupe walking through the park a short way away. "And what about the Dariganis? Have you seen the guys up on the Citadel lately?"
Ben gestured towards the Citadel floating over the fields to the north of the city. Moondatta smiled despite herself.
"You're pretty normal really, considering the rest of the types around here," Ben said with a smile. Moondatta giggled as she looked at his goofy grin.
"Thanks, Ben," Moondatta said happily. "That's nice of you to say."
"I know, I'm the best brother ever." The Kougra grinned. Moondatta laughed.
"I have the best family altogether," Moondatta said. "We're pretty cool, really."
"Yeah," Ben agreed. "We are pretty awesome, aren't we?"
The Pound was a miserable place, no matter how much they tried to hide it. Behind the colourful posters and flowery wallpapers lay a sinister, despondent prison. The staff advertised quality accommodation and state of the art facilities, but no one really believed that that was what went on behind the dark door.
The main reception was bright and sunny; the light fell in through the open windows and carried in the sounds of laughter and cheer from Neopia Central. A small boy stood at the desk with a red Shoyru, both beaming and grinning excitedly while he filled out adoption forms. The pink Uni behind the desk smiled happily at them as she wished them happiness.
Behind them, in the corner of the room, stood a girl. She was looking around, an intimidated expression on her face, taking in the posters and pictures on the wall. As the boy and the Shoyru left, the pink Uni's attention was drawn to her and the Uni cleared her throat.
"Can I help?"
"Oh, er," Dragon stuttered, startled, "actually, erm, yes. Yes, that'd be good."
"If you're looking to adopt, then right this way," the Uni said with a grin, gesturing towards a door to her right. Dragon stood up and walked to the desk. "I'll show you around and let you meet everyone."
"Actually, I'm not," Dragon started, stumbling over her words. "I don't want to adopt. I'm here to... abandon."
"Abandon?" The Uni repeated, trailing off as she looked behind Dragon. The reception was empty apart from them. "Abandon who?"
"My Gelert," Dragon said. "She's not here. She doesn't know yet."
"I'm sorry, but your pet must be present to be abandoned or transferred," the Uni said stiffly. Her friendly tone was gone, replaced by a stiff and forcefully polite one. She stared at Dragon coldly. "I suggest you go home and talk it over with her before coming to such decisions."
"Right, yes," Dragon muttered, turning around and starting to slink out of the Pound. She sent one last look towards the bright decorations and frowned slightly. "Talk. I can talk about it."
Dragon opened the door and stepped inside, wiping her feet on the doormat. She looked into the sitting room of her house and saw her pets, lounging on the sofas or the floor. A few of them were playing a board game. Ben was reading. Zeru was slouched on the arm chair, a bottle of grog in her hand. Dragon narrowed her eyes.
Lola, a ghost Yurble, was the first to spot Dragon. She looked up from the newspaper she was reading and waved.
"Hey, Dragon," she called with a grin. The others immediately turned around to look at Dragon. The girl kicked off her shoes and walked into the sitting room. "Dinner's in the kitchen, if you're hungry."
"Zeru," Dragon said. The blue Gelert looked up at her and grinned, taking a drink.
"Yes, she made it," Tatsu, the red Eyrie lying on the floor with Nesmachintiyi, assured Dragon. "You know how Lola is. Don't worry, the food's safe."
"Zeru, can I have a word?" Dragon asked sharply. Zeru raised her eyebrow and looked at Dragon coolly.
"Go ahead," she drawled.
"Alone," Dragon clarified.
"Anything you've got to say to me, the others can hear too," Zeru said, waving her paw vaguely in the air. She flicked her dark blue hair out of her face. Dragon gritted her teeth.
"Fine," she snapped, her voice clipped. "Listen, Zeru, I've had just about enough of you. I told you to stay out of trouble – when that didn't work, I asked you, wanted to help you – but what do you do? You end up in the dungeons yet again!"
Oh, Sloth, Lola thought as she watched Zeru narrow her eyes. Here we go again.
"I'm sick of you always ignoring what I say," Dragon said, gesturing angrily with her hands. "I'm your owner, you should do as I say. You don't, and I've had it – I've warned you before, and you still keep getting locked up. You're an embarrassment to the whole family!"
"I look after the 'ole family," Zeru replied harshly, her left ear twitching in annoyance. Dragon glared at her angrily. "Without me, yer'd all starve, or die of food poisoning. Yer can't cope without me. What with all o' the hard work, I deserve t'do what I want for once."
Ben sighed. The magma Kougra closed his book quietly and carefully stood up, edging out of the sitting room and trying not to draw any attention to himself. The arguments were starting again, like they regularly did. It was best not to get in Dragon or Zeru's way when this happened. Silently, Tatsu and Pazu joined him. Lola just rolled her eyes and hid behind her newspaper, while the robot Ruki settled down gleefully to watch.
"Not when what you want is to pillage and rob innocent people!"
"I'm a pirate, not a savage!" Zeru snapped, her voice raised. She glared at her owner and tried to control her voice a little more as she continued. "I don't—"
"And the worst part is, you always lie to me!" Dragon interrupted her loudly. "You never tell me your leaving, you never send me any noticed when you get locked up—"
"Kind of the meanin' o' bein' locked up!"
"—I find out on the market! The market! The whole of Meridell City knows before I do! I'm sick of it, Zeru, I really am—"
"'S none o' yer business what I do, or where I am—"
"I've told you so many times to stop—"
"I'll never stop!"
"I've had enough—"
"And yer still goin' on about it, what the—"
"I'm abandoning you!" Dragon roared. Zeru stared at her.
To be continued...