Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 110,015,858 Issue: 181 | 10th day of Running, Y7
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Needed Beginnings: Rorro and Toragi - Part One


by tdyans

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Author's Note: This is the final story in the "Needed Beginnings" series, which includes: "Cap and Feruli," "Feruli and Silviana," and "Allegra and Brenner."

"I've been thinking…." Feruli said one evening. "We're like a tree."

      Cap looked up from the empty tin can he'd been eating and at the blue Eyrie who lay gnawing slowly on his own dinner a few feet away. On the great ruff that covered Feruli's neck and shoulders reclined his now-constant companion, Silviana. The green Zafara was munching on an apple, eyes closed, but the old Skeith discerned just the slightest raise of her floppy ears; Feruli's statement had caught hold of her curiosity as well. Cap turned his attention back to Feruli, but the Eyrie was not looking at him.

     Night was being brushed across the sky in ever-deepening shades of blue, but as Cap followed the Eyrie's gaze, he could still make out the dark shapes of the other Neopets who inhabited their little encampment in the center of the abandoned junkyard. All homeless pets, pets who had been mistreated and betrayed and abandoned, here they began to put the pieces of their hearts back together. The shadows seemed to dance about as they played games and told stories and simply lifted each others' spirits by sharing a common pain.

      "A tree?" the Skeith finally asked.

      "Yes." Feruli nodded, still staring out at the others. "I used to think we were like a chain, but that's not right. We're not just a straight line of links, one connecting to another connecting to the next. We're like a tree-- with a trunk, and branches, and then smaller branches growing out of those, and shoots and leaves… and always growing and changing. See, we brought some of these pets here, you and me and Silviana. Then each of those pets found someone new and brought them in, and then each of those does the same. Always growing, from every point, and in all different ways, but all connected to the same roots, deep down. Alive. Like a tree."

     Cap looked out into the junkyard again. It was dark now completely, but he could still hear their voices all around him, floating across the night air, reassuring him and everyone else-- they were not alone. He nodded at Feruli and smiled. "Yes. We're like a tree." Feruli smiled back, and Silviana patted one back foot against his shoulder in her own silent sign of approval.

     ***

     But Feruli would later decide that if the junkyard pets were like a tree, then Rorro was the bad apple….

      ***

     The evening shadows were steadily darkening, and Allegra had to hold her clipboard as close to her face as possible in order to check it over and make sure that everyone had made it home safely once again. With a flick of the pencil that she held in one wing, the Lenny checked off the final group of pets that had just made its way past with a chorus or weary but cheerful greetings. She nodded to herself. "Yes, that's everyone. Thank goodness." The day's work was over.

     She lowered the clipboard and let out a startled gasp. The first thing that she saw before her were two glowing red eyes that stood out starkly in the growing darkness. Below these haunting beacons, gleaming fangs jutted from a mouth that seemed ill-fitted for them. Above, a twisting mass of glistening pink and gray flesh twitched and throbbed.

     The mutant Kacheek flinched a bit at Allegra's sharp intake of breath. The Lenny quickly recovered. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that anyone was here, and you startled me--"

      "Whatever," the Kacheek snarled skeptically.

      "Really, I...." Allegra sighed and changed direction. "You're new here."

     He sneered. "However did you know?"

      "I know all the pets here," she struggled to explain. "I'd recognize any newcomer, and--"

     The Kacheek shrugged dismissively. "Look," he said, "I don't care. Are you the one in charge?"

     The flustered Lenny shook her head. "I-I'll take you to Cap. Come along, dear." The Kacheek scowled at the unconscious endearment. Nevertheless, he followed her into the junkyard, through the mazes of garbage and to the encampment that stood at the center.

     The ownerless pets who made their home in the junkyard were settling down after another long day spent gathering the food and supplies that kept their band alive. A few of the younger pets were playing games while older ones looked on, envious of their boundless energy. Others sat in small groups, telling jokes and discussing the happenings of the day. But most were lined up waiting to receive their daily portion of food. As Allegra led the mutant Kacheek past, most of the pets averted their eyes uncomfortably, pretending that they did not see him. The Kacheek, for his part, pretended just as unconvincingly not to know that they saw him all too well.

     But there were two pairs of eyes that didn't flinch and quickly flitter away like the rest. Allegra kept walking toward Cap, unaware, when the Kacheek stopped in his tracks. He frowned after her and then turned his attention back to the sight that had made him pause: a huge blue Eyrie with a green Zafara perched atop his shoulders, both gazing at him with interest. The Eyrie offered a smile.

     The Kacheek growled. "What are you staring at?"

     Silviana couldn't help but smirk. "Isn't it obv--" She stopped short when Feruli's tail flew up to flick the back of her head.

      "We're always interested when we see someone new to the junkyard," the Eyrie interjected.

     The Kacheek folded his paws and cast a doubtful eye over the pair. "Sure, whatever."

      "Look," Feruli said, trying to start again, "my name's Feruli, and this is Silviana. And you are…?"

      "Are you in charge around here?"

      "Er, well… no. I--"

      "Then I'm not interested." And with that, he turned and stalked off after Allegra, who had found Cap overseeing the distribution of dinner.

     Silviana rubbed the back of her head ruefully. "You tail-cracked me on his account."

      "First impressions are important, Silviana," Feruli reminded her, but he was staring after the Kacheek with equal disdain now.

      "Yeah, well, doesn't seem like anyone ever told him that."

      "No kidding," the Eyrie growled. "Come on." He broke out of the line and with a few strides of his long legs, ended up beside Cap just as the Kacheek himself was finally arriving. They exchanged glares.

     Cap cleared his throat, and the Kacheek turned toward him. "Are you the one in charge around here?"

     Cap frowned a little, but replied, "I suppose you could say that…. I'm Cap."

      "Rorro," was the Kacheek's terse reply.

      "Nice to meet you, Rorro." Cap offered his crooked toothy smile. "Allegra here informs me that you may be looking for a new home--"

     Rorro cut him off with a wave of his paw. "Look, I need a place to stay and food to eat, and I heard about this place on the street. If I need to help out and earn my keep, that's fine, but I'm not looking to make any friends."

     The smile faded from Cap's craggy face, but the friendliness did not leave his brown eyes. "Very well. Please take anything you like from the food we've collected here, and you can find shelter for yourself once you've eaten. Allegra will let you know what's expected of you tomorrow morning."

     Rorro nodded curtly and stalked off, grabbing a piece of cheese from the pile of food on his way and offering a challenging glare to anyone who came near him. Cap sighed. Feruli's reaction was somewhat more vehement.

      "Why that rude little--"

      "Feruli," Cap warned gently.

      "Who does he think he is?" The Eyrie continued to fume. "Coming in here with that attitude…."

      "Feruli--"

      "Cap, how can you just let him walk off without--"

      "I can, Feruli, because I recall a young Eyrie who was pretty angry at the world when I met him as well." The Skeith gave Feruli a pointed look, and the Eyrie's demeanor instantly changed. "You've got more in common with him than you think, my boy. I don't know his story, but my guess would be that you both lost someone who you believed cared about you because of a physical change-- a change of your outer body that ended up hurting your heart infinitely more."

     The Eyrie bowed his head, abashed. The lifeless wings that hung limp against his back seemed to flare with pain, even though he knew this to be impossible. He lifted his eyes after a moment of thought. "Well… maybe for him there's a way to fix things at least…."

     Cap gazed into the Eyrie's contrite face. A plan was forming in Feruli's mind, he could tell, but he let that be for now, offering only a comforting smile in response. "Just give him a chance, Feruli. That's what we're all here for-- to give each other a second chance."

     The Eyrie nodded. "Allegra, you can put him on our team tomorrow." He heard Silviana grumble from her perch astride his shoulders, but she said nothing more loudly, willing to go along with her friend's judgment.

      "Well," the Lenny said, "that solves one thing at least. Thank you, Feruli. I'm sure he'll adjust with time-- everybody does."

      "We'll see to it," the Eyrie assured her.

     ***

     When Allegra arrived in the junkyard, one of the first things that she had done to help organize the workings of the homeless pets had been to divide them up into teams. Each team was given a different assignment at the start of each day-- scavenging for food in the city, searching for wild fruits and vegetables in the forest, selling items to pay for other supplies, grabbing things from the Money Tree-- and with all of their different efforts put together, they were able to keep their little community thriving.

     Feruli had become the unofficial head of his team, respected as he was for not only his size but also his standing as Cap's first protégé. Silviana was, of course, the second member, and in addition to her street smarts, she contributed her persistent sense of humor. The young Lupe Brenner who had arrived with Allegra had been assigned as the third member of the team. He approached every task with puppy-like enthusiasm and was always eager to help in whatever way he could.

     Fourth was Toragi. No one seemed to know much about this sleek red Kougra who had arrived quietly in the junkyard one day, blending quickly into the clan of homeless pets without ever standing out. She rarely spoke, and, perhaps daunted by her hunter-like demeanor and intimidating build, other pets rarely approached her. She seemed content to constantly hover about the edges of the social activity of the junkyard, always observing, never taking part. Taciturn though she was, Feruli and the others on the team found her to be a valuable addition, and, after time, they came to understand that her reticence was not to be equated with unfriendliness. Even to them she spoke in her low voice only when necessary, but she was always willing and efficient when it came to any task that she was assigned.

     Rorro was a different matter. He had told Cap that he meant to earn his keep, and to that he was true, but it seemed that there was simply nothing in life that the Kacheek did not approach with an attitude of derision. He did everything that he was told to do, but never without grumbling. It didn't help that Feruli was essentially in charge, since the two had not gotten off on the right paw, and their first impressions never seemed to get righted. Much as the Eyrie tried to stay civil, his temper always eventually failed him in the face of Rorro's grousing, and some argument seemed to break out each day without fail.

     Things were not much better when they got home. Rorro kept to his word again; he was not there to make friends, and in fact he seemed bound and determined not to. Anyone who even tried to approach the mutant Kacheek with a friendly smile received only a snarl in return. The few times that he did join in on conversations, it was only to throw in some snide comment or biting remark. Other than that, he kept doggedly to himself, even pointedly falling asleep-- or pretending to-- each night before Cap came out to tell the stories that all of the other pets looked forward to so.

     Still, to those few who were truly paying attention, despite all his efforts to the contrary, Rorro's story began to come together, bit by bit….

To be continued...

 
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