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The Orphan and the Beast: Part Three

by sarahleeadvent


None of the four beings involved in the chase actually saw the rock as it leapt from the blackness on their right, but the bird-thing certainly felt it, and as the speeding projectile slammed into its head it staggered sideways in midair, letting out a croaking scream of protest. All thoughts of the bite-sized Wocky it had been chasing were banished from its mind as it turned its hideous head to face its new assailant.

      An instant later another scream reclaimed its attention, and turning back to its prey the falcon saw that the Wocky had tripped, fallen and skidded to a halt, spraining her ankle as she went down. She tried to get up, but she instantly found that she couldn't put any weight on her injured foot, and was forced to stand swaying on her good leg, unable to run away. Its thoughts turned once again to the all-consuming concept of food, and the bird-thing pounced at Leah, its head thrusting forward to the full length of its long, serpentine neck as it prepared to snap up the little Wocky whole.

      No sooner had it begun this second attack than it let out a choking squawk, its ugly head snapping sharply back; and staring at the space above the falcon Kamro could just make out the dim silhouette of a long, lanky, bat-winged creature, which seemed to have lassoed the bird with its tail and now was flapping as hard as it could. The Zafara's eyes widened, but when he tried to call out to Leah no voice would come.

      The falcon struggled furiously, but the bat-creature was strong, and while the bird was fifteen feet long compared its adversary's ten, its air supply was effectively cut off and it soon became clear that it was losing ground. Slowly the two combatants began to move backward, and Kamro tensed as he realized that Leah's rescuer seemed to be dragging its opponent toward the edge of the cliff.

      Seeing that Satiria was now well ahead of him, Kamro forced himself to tear his eyes from the fight, then bounded toward Leah, who had collapsed to the ground with tears streaming from her wide and frightened eyes. "Kamro," she whimpered as the Zafara joined his sisters, "I can't do this again. I was so scared…"

      "We know," Satiria said softly before Kamro could reply. "We know, baby. It's OK now."

      Kamro knelt on Leah's left side which Satiria crouched on her right, and together they held their sister and rocked her as if she were still an infant. Leah made no effort to stand up or pull away, but went limp in their arms and cried softly while her siblings did what they could to comfort her.

      "Leah, do you realize what just happened?" Satiria whispered. "If you hadn't pulled that thing out of the trap, you- and maybe even the rest of us- would have been killed!"

      Upon hearing this Leah stiffened, then sat bolt upright, her tearstained eyes wild with concern. "He's gonna get killed!" she wailed in anguish, and Kamro and Satiria jumped.

      Satiria began to stroke the back of Leah's head, and as she caressed her sister she whispered, "Don't worry, Lee- I think he'll be fine. He was winning when last I looked at him."

      "But he's hurt," the agitated child protested. "He's got those cuts on his ankle- he couldn't even put much weight on it!"

      "The fight was happening in the air, Leah," Satiria reminded her. "And with your friend holding that bird thing's neck, I don't think it could use its beak." Leah opened her mouth, but Satiria anticipated her words and added before she could voice them, "And the bird's claws wouldn't be much use against an opponent who was flying above it. He's going to be fine."

      Leah gave a quiet sniff and wiped a lingering tear from her eye. "Do you really think so?" she asked, and Kamro nodded firmly.

      "I know so," he said, hoping he did not lie. "I don't know if he's going to come straight back, but I don't think that bird sucker has a chance."

      Leah heaved a shuddery sigh. "I hope we see him again," she said. "I just met him today, but I'm still gonna miss him if we don't."

      Kamro glanced at Satiria, and he could tell that she was as touched as he was. Leah rarely got attached to anyone this quickly- in fact, it was completely unprecedented- but Kamro supposed that having saved each others' lives would have formed a special bond.

      Something suddenly occurred to Kamro. "It's a good thing we packed for the night, because you'll need awhile to recover before you can climb down with that leg, Leah. I'm not sure when we'll be able to get home."

      Leah closed her eyes for a moment and sniffled again; but when she opened them they suddenly became as round as full moons, and her mouth opened to emit a soft "Oh!" as she leaned toward the source of her surprise. Kamro twisted his head, and there before him stood the bat creature, breathing heavily but seemingly unharmed, although Kamro thought it was putting a little more weight on its right leg than its left. Kamro could tell that Satiria tensed, but Leah seemed to be completely unafraid, her eyes and manner displaying only joy to see that her new friend appeared to be all right. "Are you OK?" she asked, and the creature cocked its head.

      "I don't think he understands, Leah," Kamro whispered, and Leah sagged slightly with disappointment. Eager to reassure her, the Zafara added, "But he looks OK to me."

      The creature stepped forward, studying the siblings intently. Then, to all three Neopets' surprise, it suddenly reached for Kamro, grabbed him gently but firmly under the armpits, and began to lift him into the air. For a moment the startled Zafara clung to Leah, but quickly let go when he realized that holding onto his sister would result in more harm than good. The creature bent down, and Kamro tensed with surprise as it gently lowered him onto its back.

      As Kamro began to slide off, his fur providing no friction against the glassy scales, it took every ounce of his self-control to resist the instinct to dig his claws into the massive entity's shoulders in order to keep his hold; but the mental picture of its possibly violent reaction gave him the necessary willpower, and to Kamro's relief the creature sensed his difficulty and hunkered down further, giving him a more level surface. It then repeated the process with Satiria, who closed her eyes tightly but did not resist. Kamro's battle against instinct became significantly more difficult when the creature released its hold on the Cybunny, whose arms immediately proceeded to latch onto her brother's waist, nearly dragging him off of his perch.

      But in a moment his difficulty was forgotten, and Kamro stared with rapt fascination over his strange ally's shoulder at the touching scene which unfolded before his eyes. Reaching down, the creature slid one long-fingered hand under the backs of Leah's knees, and the other supported her back as it lifted her up like a baby, cradling her against its narrow chest as if she were a priceless sculpture of fragile glass. For a moment the little Wocky's eyes widened; but then they closed again in an expression of absolute trust and contentment, and she nestled against the bat-creature's scaly body, a slight smile softening her face. Kamro's mind was drawn back to the days when his parents were still alive, when Leah would settle back into her mother's arms and let the lingering fear of a nightmare be brushed away by the gentle stroking of her mother's paws.

      Then the creature took off at a run, remaining half-stooped to avoid shedding its passengers, the muscles in its back rippling with the long, sweeping beats of its wings as it gathered speed. Kamro's breath caught, and Satiria gasped and tightened her already vise-like grip on his waist. They were nearing the edge of the cliff, but the massive being did not even slow down, instead continuing to accelerate. Kamro felt his heart start to race, and a rush of adrenaline surged through his body as the bat-creature shot off the edge, its wings locking in place for a moment as it glided through the air before beginning to flap in a slow, strong, steady rhythm.

      "Ooh," Satiria breathed, and a moment later, "Kamro, I think he's taking us home!"

      And so it appeared, for the creature was making a beeline in the general direction of the deserted fairground, which was within easy walking distance of their house. They would be able to get home from there, even with the damage to Leah's foot.

      Kamro's guess about their destination was right on the mark, for as the lights of the fairground became visible the creature began to fly lower; and when they got to within a hundred yards of the fairground's border, it slipped beneath the canopy of the trees and alighted gently on the ground, allowing Kamro and Satiria to slide to the ground before handing Leah to them.

      As he reached to support his injured sister, Kamro looked up at the creature who had so unexpectedly snatched the child from the very brink of death. It stared back, quietly meeting his gaze, and Kamro was surprised to realize that its topaz eyes no longer seemed the least bit strange or frightening. He wasn't staring at some twisted mutant animal- he was gazing into the eyes of a friend. Kamro still didn't think it could interpret words- but maybe it would understand tone of voice. "Thank you," he said, filling his voice with all the gratitude that was welling up in his heart. "Thanks for saving Leah and taking us home." The creature looked at him intently for a moment, then turned its gaze to the Wocky, whose eyes had filled with tears when she accidentally put too much weight on her injured ankle.

      Then it astonished them all. "Leah," it echoed, in a surprisingly normal voice; and reaching forward it brushed the child's cheek with one long finger, removing a tear which had slipped from a glistening azure eye. Don't cry, Leah, its eyes seemed to say; then keeping its gaze on its little friend it took a step backward, as if allowing them to go.

      Leah gave it a watery smile. "Bye," she whispered, "and thanks for everything. We'll see you again soon, I hope." With that, she lifted a tiny, delicate paw and waved, and Kamro and Satiria exchanged a glance and a smile as the creature gave a tentative wave in return, as if it were trying something entirely new.

      Then the three siblings turned away and began to head for home, often glancing over their shoulders as their strange new friend continued to stand motionless, watching them in silence as they faded into the darkness. Leah in particular felt a tug in her heart as it vanished altogether, and as she hobbled along with the help of Kamro and Satiria she whispered sadly, "I wish we didn't have to leave him alone. He's probably got nobody waiting for him when he gets home. Maybe he doesn't even have a home."

      The Zafara and the Cybunny glanced at each other, and Kamro squeezed his youngest sister's shoulder and answered, "I hate to leave him too, but I think he can take care of himself- and when your ankle's better we'll see if we can find him again."

      Leah shook her head. "I don't want to wait. I wanna go and see him tomorrow. What if he gets caught in another trap?"

      "I think that was probably a one-time thing," Satiria replied. "Most people who have stepped in a trap once take care for the rest of their lives never to do it again. But even if he does get caught, I know just the Neopet to get him out again."

      Leah smiled softly, and the three children continued on in silence, each lost in thought as they revisited their encounters with the creature of the Haunted Woods.


      Four days later, Arnold the Mynci frowned as he watched a skipping Cybunny, a cheerfully grinning Zafara and a Wocky with the slightest hint of a limp passing by his house. The Zafara had a picnic basket slung over one of his narrow shoulders, and not one of the children looked as if he or she had a single care in the world.

      "You three seem to be out a lot, considering what's going on," Arnold commented sourly. "That bat thing's still on the loose, you know."

      "I know," Leah answered blithely, "but I'm not too worried about him."

      "I don't suppose it was him who gave you that limp?" Arnold asked, already suspecting the answer. Of course it wasn't- if it had been that dreadful scaly monstrosity, then these silly children would have had the sense to lock the doors of their Neohome and stay inside until they heard that the creature had been captured.

      "Nope, it wasn't. I just sprained it falling down."

      It occurred to Arnold to be puzzled by the strange transformation that had become visible in the formerly shy and quiet Wocky. She was still soft and gentle, but she seemed far more confident than she had in days past. It was as if she held some sort of secret that had her walking on air.

      "We'll be fine," Kamro assured him, his gleaming teeth showing in an easy grin, and Arnold shook his head.

      "You be careful, or you might just meet this scaly slimeball and find out what it's really all about."

      There was a slight frown on Leah's face in response to the Mynci's words, but that strange hint of a secret still glimmered in her eyes as she answered, "Don't worry, we'll be careful."

      As the three children walked away, leaving an unconvinced Arnold shaking his head in disgust, Kamro shifted the weight of the basket to ease his tired shoulder. It was getting rather heavy, but he didn't really mind. As had become their custom, the kids had packed an extra helping along with their lunch… just in case a special guest showed up.

The End

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Other Episodes

» The Orphan and the Beast: Part One
» The Orphan and the Beast: Part Two

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