Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 93,823,843 Issue: 183 | 26th day of Running, Y7
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Escape Artists: Part One


by moosuem

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The Kyrii looked up from the floor of her cage to see a light coming down the passage. Two Skeiths were stumbling into the room, trying to contain a small whirlwind of feathers, claws, and what seemed like half a dozen sharp, pecking beaks. Between the grunts and roars of the Skeiths and the screeching of the… whatever it was, the Kyrii's fellow prisoners were soon wide awake, watching the Skeith's difficulties with thinly veiled amusement. None of them were too fond of the hulking guards, and it was somehow satisfying to see their usual control failing.

      "I wish they wouldn't bring in the new ones at night," came a low mumble from the cage behind the Kyrii's. "I need all the sleep I can get."

      "You never do anything but sleep," muttered the Kyrii absently, still absorbed with the struggles of the guards.

      "That's because there's nothing else to do," replied the voice grumpily. This was followed by the sound of a mattress being lifted and dumped back down. The Kyrii looked over to see that Cassandra was sleeping with her head under her mattress again, then looked back at the guards.

      "You'll never take me alive!" squawked the small, furious thing, pecking one of the guards hard on the nose. There were a few sleepy cheers from the other prisoners.

      With an enraged roar, the scratched and pecked guards threw the thing to the floor and sat on it heavily.

      There was silence in the room.

      With a satisfied expression on their wide faces, the two Skeiths got up, picked up the moaning bundle of feathers on the floor, and threw it into the other cage next to the Kyrii's. The door of the cage slammed shut with a CLANG. The Skeiths smirked, then winced from moving their scratched faces. Grumbling about wanting better rations after this, they stomped out of the room, slamming the thick door behind them.

      The Kyrii sighed as she looked at the unconscious lump of feathers breathing shallowly in the cage. Then she cast a longing glance out of the large, cage-filled room's single, small, barred window and went back to sleep to the steady dripping of another leaky pipe.

      On the outer wall above the window, a neon sign flickered on as night fell on the world outside.

THE NEOPIAN POUND.

      The Kyrii was woken before dawn by yelling from the next cage over.

      "You can't keep me in here! I demand that you open this door now! Right now! Do you hear me? I won't stand for this! This is no place for respectable Neopets! You can't just shut me up in here and-"

      "Doesn't sound like anyone can shut you up," called someone irritably from another part of the room. "Can't you quiet down? We're trying to sleep!"

      "Sleeping's for Skeiths!" yelled the feathered thing again. Blinking sleepily, the Kyrii looked up and saw a small Pteri with a black eye, who preened a few of his bent, grimy feathers before returning to his tirade.

      "I am a Skeith!" replied the other voice. The Pteri ignored it.

      "You come open this door this INSTANT! I will not tolerate being stuffed into this grimy little cage and locked up! If you don't open this door right now, the consequences-"

      "Will include me eating your breakfast this morning," roared one of the Skeith guards from the hallway. "And your lunch, too, if you don't pipe down!"

      "Fine!" screeched the Pteri. "Go ahead! From what I've seen of the rest of this place, the food's probably inedible anyway! I don't know how all these other poor Neopets are as alive as they are in a place like this! You call this the Pound? More like the Stingy Half-Ounce if you ask me! All this is is a bunch of cheap cages in a cheap room with cheap heating and cheap, leaky plumbing - just listen to it drip- and cheap food and cheap guards who can't even subdue one small, unjustly imprisoned Pteri without needing two of them to do it! And another thing-"

      "There goes your lunch, and dinner too!" bellowed the guard triumphantly. "Care to start on tomorrow's food?"

      The Pteri sputtered angrily, then let out a screech of rage and banged his head on the bars of his cage. After sitting and fuming for a while, he starting muttering vehemently under his breath.

      "Do you think he's crazy?" came a whisper from another cage.

      "I don't know," the Kyrii whispered back. She pulled a small hairbrush from under her mattress and started brushing her long, matted hair. It looked like it had been red once; now, it was more of a muddy gray-brown. "Cassandra, what do you think?"

      There was no answer.

      "Oops. Forgot," said the Kyrii, reaching into the cage behind hers and pulling the mattress off the head of the large yellow Skeith inside.

      "Good morning," yawned the Skeith. "Did they ever get that lunatic last night into a cage?"

      The Pteri grumbled, "I heard that," and curled up in the corner of his cage.

      "Oops," said the Skeith sheepishly. "Sorry."

      The Pteri was silent.

      "I'm Cassandra," said the Skeith, trying to be friendly. "Well, actually, my real name's CAS238-and-a-lot-more-numbers, but I don't really like it, so everyone calls me Cassandra instead."

      There was still no response.

      "Oh dear, I think I made him angry," said Cassandra sadly.

      "I was already angry," said the Pteri, looking up. "You aren't exactly helping, but after being in here, I guess you can't really be blamed for it. How long have you been in here, anyway?"

      "Two years," said Cassandra softly.

      "Two years?" squawked the Pteri. "Oh, no…" With a moan of despair, he curled up in the corner again.

      "But you probably won't be in here that long," said Cassandra quickly. "It's just that I'm a Skeith, and no one seems to want to adopt a Skeith."

      There were grumbles of agreement from quite a few other Skeiths, who seemed to make up almost a third of the Neopets in the pound.

      "I have a weird name, too," Cassandra continued. "People seem to like names that are mostly numbers even less than they like Skeiths." She paused for a moment, then continued with a slight quaver in her voice. "I - I think my owner was planning to abandon me when he named me in the first place. He didn't even keep me for a week." She sighed. "I just wish he'd put a bit more effort into naming me first."

      "My owner got really upset the last time I, er, accidentally let a swarm of Slorgs into the house," said the Pteri sadly. "Some people have no sense of humor, I guess, but I never thought she would-" He looked around, suddenly silent, at the dim, grimy room.

      "I was glad to be rid of my owner," said the Kyrii, still brushing her hair. "She said I was too vain. Vain! Can you believe it?" She rubbed her hair back with one paw, looking at her reflection in a puddle on the floor. She frowned at the dirty, matted hair in the reflection, then went back to brushing it. "Of course, this place isn't exactly an improvement."

      Cassandra grinned, then turned to the Pteri and asked, "What's your name?"

      The Pteri blinked, then drew himself up to his full height (which, being a small Pteri, wasn't very much, but looked impressive anyway). "I am Midnight Shadows the Eighteenth," he announced, seeming to draw strength from saying it.

      "Thefoi," the Kyrii introduced herself, shaking out her long hair dramatically. "Well, Midnight Shadows the - can I just call you Midnight?"

      "No!" the Pteri said sharply.

      "Well, it's kind of a long name otherwise."

      The Pteri sighed, scowling at the floor of his cage. "I know it's long," he sighed, "but it seems to be all I have now."

      A few hours later, visitors to the Pound began to trickle in. Every Neopet in the room tried to look as bright and adorable as possible, hoping desperately to be adopted, but most were too depressed to manage more than a weak grin.

      "Try to look cute," muttered Thefoi out of the corner of her mouth as she pasted an adoring grin onto her face for a passing owner. "You won't get adopted otherwise." Smiling hugely and batting her eyelashes, she succeeded in making the owner move quickly on in search of a slightly more sane pet.

      "Why?" asked Midnight Shadows the Eighteenth bitterly. "I've about had it with owners anyway." He scowled at a passing owner, his black eye and scruffy feathers making him look even less friendly than usual. The owner gave him a nervous glance, then hurried past.

      "Honestly," hissed Thefoi, grinning maniacally for another owner. "You're as bad as Cassandra." The owner, a tall, armor-clad boy, gave the leering Kyrii a nervous look and pulled his mutant Draik away from her cage.

      Midnight turned to see Cassandra slumped glumly in her cage, ignoring the passing owners. She turned to look at him and smiled bitterly. "Last year, I realized that every other pet in the pound had been here less than a month, while I'd been here over a year," she said quietly. "I don't really think I'm going to get adopted."

      An owner bent down to look in at Cassandra. The girl smiled at the dejected Skeith, then glanced up at the nameplate on her cage. Her smile froze at the meaningless string of numbers and letters. Giving Cassandra an apologetic glance, she turned and walked away. Cassandra watched the owner go, then curled up and went to sleep. Midnight couldn't see her face.

      Next to Midnight, Thefoi sighed through her overdone expression and turned her stretched grin on another owner.

      Lunch was served, as it was every day, more or less at some time around noon.

      "Semi-rotten omelette with bitten berry sauce again," muttered Thefoi. "Oh, joy."

      "At least you've got food," said Midnight Shadows the Eighteenth, looking glumly at the Kyrii's plate.

      "Midnight Shadows the Eighteenth-"

      "Oh, fine, just call me Midnight."

      "Thanks. Anyway, Midnight, when you've been here for a few weeks, you get kind of tired of the same meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of every week of every month…"

      "I don't mind it," said Cassandra, already digging in happily.

      "Cassandra, you'll eat anything," said Thefoi. "Some of the rest of us are a bit more picky about food."

      "Hey, Pteri!" the guard yelled from across the room. His mouth was full. "Thanks for the lunch! It's delicious!"

      Cassandra looked guiltily at the drooping Pteri, then back at her plate. "Here, have mine," she said, shoving the few remaining pieces of omelette through the bars of her cage into Midnight's.

      "Thank you," Midnight said gratefully, picking up the plate.

      "Hey!" yelled the guard, rising from his seat by the door. "That little Pteri isn't supposed to get food!" Marching over to Midnight's cage, he stuck his arm in and grabbed the plate of omelette away from Midnight. "Starvation makes Pound Neopets more obedient," he said smugly as he shoveled the food into his own mouth. With that, he stomped back to his post by the door.

      Thefoi and Cassandra looked at Midnight sympathetically as he glared daggers at the guard. A drop of water fell from a leaky pipe on the ceiling, landing right in his eye.

      Midnight sputtered. "That does it," he hissed, rubbing furiously at his eye. "I can't stand this anymore. We're breaking out of here!"

To be continued…

 
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