What Am I?: Part Two
The room was deathly silent, even the hum of working machinery seeming to fade. After a long moment, the Zafara apparently concluded that he was not going to get an answer on the first try and said, more firmly this time, “I am Kitron of Virtupets. You will tell me your designation, and explain to me my function.”
Struggling free of her speechless stupor, Kelenria stammered, “My name is Kelenria, and... um...” She trailed off, not certain how to answer the other half of Kitron’s demand.
At the moment, however, Kitron seemed distracted. He was looking around, seeming once again uncertain. “What is our location?”
“Our location? Er... near the bottom of Terror Mountain, in a building underground.”
“Terror Mountain. A vast mass of stone, snow and ice on the northern extremity of Neopia.” Kelenria nodded, and Kitron’s gaze returned to her. “You will explain my presence here, and tell me my function.”
“I can’t,” Kelenria said, trembling; and Kitron’s already jet-black face darkened.
“You will tell me my function.” His voice was alarmingly stern.
“I CAN’T!” Kelenria repeated, her voice rising in terror and frustration. “I don’t know what your function is! You could be a dishwasher for all I know!”
Kelenria wasn’t certain whether she expected this strange, dark creature to become frustrated, impatient or outright angry; but either way, his reaction was like nothing she’d anticipated. Openly disconcerted now, he looked around almost helplessly before returning his stare to Kelenria’s and saying simply, “There are no dishes here.”
It was such an anticlimax that Kelenria almost laughed. Perhaps this strange Zafara wasn’t quite as much of a threat as she’d first believed. Stifling her amusement, the Xweetok said, “Well, since neither of us knows what your original ‘function’ was, perhaps we can find you a new one.”
Kitron mulled that over for a moment, then squared his shoulders, drew himself up to his full height and gave a stiff, crisp nod. “Kelenria of Virtupets. You will be my mentor. You will reveal my function, and convey me to my superiors.”
Kelenria hesitated, trying to determine whether her next words were going to get her shredded. Finally deciding to risk it now rather than be forced to later, she said meekly, “Actually, I’m not with Virtupets, so I have no way to contact your ‘superiors’. I’m with Neopia.”
Kitron frowned at her, as if trying to access some lost piece of information that would explain her statement to him and tell him why- or if- it was of any importance to him. Finally he gave up on it. “Kelenria of Neopia. You will be my mentor. You will reveal my function.”
“Er... well... OK...” Great. First I’m a student, then I’m a prisoner, then I’m a ‘to do’ list, and now I’m supposed to be his own personal talent scout. Oh, well. At least he hasn’t pegged me as a pinata. Taking a deep breath, Kelenria asked, feeling incredibly foolish as she spoke, “So... what do you like to do?”
Kitron frowned again, clearly not understanding why she would ask that. “How does this pertain to revealing my function?”
“I’m- er- trying to figure out which function would be best for you.”
“I am Kitron of Virtupets. I serve the function that is needed.”
“Well, there are a lot of ‘functions’ in Neopia, and many of them are needed. I could make you a list if you like.” By now Kelenria’s initial terror had completely worn off, and in spite of herself she was beginning to like this bizarre, bewildered Zafara. Perhaps it would be fun, helping him to find his place in the world.
Again Kitron displayed that stiff, upright posture and gave her a single clipped nod. “Acceptable. You shall compile a list of potential functions.” He relaxed slightly and his obsidian eyes studied Kelenria expectantly, as if expecting her to make a list on the spot.
Then suddenly he tensed. “Intruders,” he growled, his eyes narrowing in the direction of a door in the corner of the room nearest to the pod Kelenria had come in.
For a moment, Kelenria could hear nothing; then distantly her ears caught the sound of a babble of voices, drawing swiftly nearer. “Here,” one called, rising above the others. “This must be it. Strange, I don’t think I noticed this door before; but it leads in the same general direction as the tube. Let’s check it out.”
Kelenria was both relieved and alarmed. She was glad to have been found, or almost found- but she wasn’t entirely certain how the teacher and the other kids would react to Kitron. For that matter, the darkness in his expression and the bristling tenseness of his ebony body seemed a pretty clear indication that he wouldn’t react too terribly well to them. “It’s OK,” she said hesitantly. “That’s my class and teacher. I don’t think they’ll be a problem as long as you don’t scare them.”
Kitron hesitated, his face the picture of turmoil and uncertainty. Clearly his ‘information download’ had given him some reason to believe that the approaching Neopets were some sort of threat, and he was weighing this against Kelenria’s words. Coming to a decision, he shook his head firmly. “We will evade the intruders.”
With that, he stooped suddenly and snatched up Kelenria. The startled Xweetok let out a tiny squeak of surprise, and resisted the urge to struggle as the massive Zafara raced for the side of the room opposite the door. Kelenria would have thought that a Xweetok could outrun a bipedal Zafara any day- as a rule, four legs were quicker than two- but as the ground zipped by beneath her, she knew that she was traveling at a speed her own limbs would never be able to touch.
Crossing the massive room within seconds, Kitron didn’t even slow down when confronted by a solid steel wall, and as the forbidding gray barrier rushed to meet her, Kelenria closed her eyes and screamed, bracing herself for a hideous impact. She could already feel the horrible pain of her body being crushed between the wall and the giant Zafara, could already envision the result...
Then suddenly, at the very last instant, Kitron leapt into the air and whirled around, applying his ebony back to the wall. Kelenria instinctively curled into a ball, whimpering with fear as the blind darkness behind her closed eyelids was filled with an explosive boom and the shriek of tortured metal. She felt Kitron twist violently, and suddenly the breath was jarred from her body as the larger Neopet jerked to a halt. Kelenria found herself suspended on one of his thin but muscular arms, and opening her eyes she saw that he had dropped into a quadrupedal position, holding her under him with one limb while bracing himself with the other three, using his massive body to shield her from the downpour of jagged steel fragments that rained down all around them. Then he leapt to his feet again and continued his headlong race.
Sobs of terror rose in Kelenria’s chest, and she struggled to hold them back. She had no idea where this powerful being was taking her, or what he was going to do when he got there. Clearly he needed to keep her intact- his decision to shield her from the impact with the wall and from the resulting rain of steel testified to that- but Kelenria didn’t like to ponder the many things he could do to her without inflicting serious damage.
Seconds stretched into an illusion of eternity, but it was in fact only three quarters of a minute and four smashed walls later when Kitron halted again, looking around with a frown. Clearly he wasn’t sure precisely where he was, and he knew that he couldn’t just keep charging around like a mad Tonu. Setting Kelenria down, he asked the trembling little bundle of fur, “What is the optimal method of egress from this building?”
Kitron repeated the question, and Kelenria asked timidly, “What do ‘optimal’ and ‘egress’ mean?”
Kitron gave her a frown of mingled question, uncertainty and disbelief in response to her obtuseness, and Kelenria silently begged the floor to open up and drop her out of this nightmare. With an almost mechanical patience that seemed to indicate that he felt certain that he would get what he wanted in the end, and it mattered little how long it took, Kitron answered, “Optimal: desirable or satisfactory. Egress: escape or exit.”
“Oh. You want to know the best way out of this building?”
“I... I’m not sure. I don’t know if I could have found my way out by myself even before I got trapped in the pod that brought me to the room where I found you, and after that I got completely lost.”
Kitron’s frown deepened. “A pursuing assembly of unmodified Neopets will require approximately three point four minutes to reach our current location. We must leave the building before then.”
Kelenria was about to insist that they should wait for the others and that Kitron wouldn’t be hurt if they did; but then she thought of how it would look if she were proved wrong. After the flight of fear Kitron had just subjected her to, she wasn’t entirely certain that seeing him captured would be such a bad thing; but still, she didn’t want to look like a traitor. “I don’t know how to get out of here,” she whimpered as Kitron continued to fix her with a patient, expectant, penetrating stare. “We got in through a door, but I think it was on the other side of the building.” She was about to suggest that Kitron keep on going in a straight line until he came to the outer wall; but then she remembered that those walls were underground. She doubted even Kitron could blast through both a double-thickness reinforced steel wall and the hundreds of feet of packed, frozen ground beyond.
Kitron was looking increasingly uncertain; clearly some inner clock was ticking. Then he stiffened as if with sudden realization, looking slightly less ill-at-ease. “Submarines,” he said simply, and Kelenria blinked.
“We’re going in a submarine?”
“All planetside Virtupets facilities are equipped with multiple emergency methods of egress, including aquatic vehicles,” Kitron explained, then stooped down and punched a hole in the floor. Kelenria backed away, whimpering; and Kitron, seeming to note her terror for the first time, paused for a long moment, studying her. “You are frightened,” he commented quietly.
“I don’t know where you’re taking me, or what you’re going to do with me, so yes, I am scared,” Kelenria answered in barely a whisper.
To her surprise, Kitron’s face softened. “You are my mentor. I will not damage you. You must help me to identify my function.”
“But what happens to me after that?”
Kitron’s patented frown of uncertainty returned. Kelenria was beginning to think it was the default setting for his face. After mulling the question over for a moment, the Zafara replied, “You will return to your home.”
A spark of hope ignited in Kelenria’s heart. “Why don’t we go to my house now? We live in Tyrannia, and I don’t think anyone would think to look for you there.” Further inspiration struck, and she added, “And I’ve got a treehouse that my owner made for me- my sister and brothers aren’t allowed to go there, because Jack built it specifically to let me get away from them and have some peace and quiet, so I don’t think anybody would find you there.” Kitron seemed to be considering it, and urged on by hope, Kelenria pressed on eagerly. “If we just ran off now to hide in a cave or something, people would start looking for me, and it would be only a matter of time before we were found. But if I took you home, we’d have all the time in the world to look for your function! I mean, I would have to go to school, and spend a lot of time in my Neohome so that nobody would get suspicious, but the treehouse has got lights and a bunk bed and all that, because Jack wanted to make it really special, so it would be like having your very own house that nobody but me can visit.”
Kitron nodded. “I will comply. You will conceal me in your ‘tree-house’. We will seek my function in secret.”
Kelenria returned the nod, almost giddy with relief, and allowed Kitron to scoop her up and jump down the hole with her. Kitron punched his way through several more levels, and with each gaping hole that he opened Kelenria was impressed and intimidated anew by his incredible strength. But he was also reassuringly careful whenever he picked her up, and he seemed to be taking care to make sure that the landings didn’t jostle her too much.
Her fear of the Zafara began once more to fade, and Kelenria was gradually able to turn her mind to other matters. Like how in the universe she was going to explain the fact that she had vanished from the main group and would soon reappear at her Neohome, leaving a trail of broken walls and floors behind her.
To be continued...