The Orphan and the Beast: Part One
"Is everybody ready to go?"
The shadow Zafara's voice rang throughout the
small Neohome in the heart of the Haunted Woods, and in two nearby rooms a Cybunny
and a Wocky simultaneously called back, "Yes, Kamro."
Upon hearing his sisters' confirmation, Kamro
came striding out of his room, his face lit up with a grin. A scruffy, streetwise
teenager, Kamro was the tough, ready protector of the younger two. This burden
had fallen squarely upon his narrow shoulders eight months ago when the siblings'
parents died, but Kamro had risen to the challenge; and now, as he stood in
the hall, well equipped but not extravagantly laden, he showed no sign of feeling
the weight of the responsibility, as seriously as he took it. "Well, come on
then," he said. "The mountains may wait forever, but don't expect me to!"
In the room beyond the first door on the left,
a red Cybunny grinned. Kamro had always had a great love of adventure, and when
he was really looking forward to something his enthusiasm could be difficult
to curb. Satiria was the middle child of the three, but she often acted as if
she was the oldest; while the others chipped in and did not slack off, Satiria
was still the main housekeeper, and the bringer of order in the absence of any
adults. She was smart, steady and sensible, the best student of the three and
a voice of reason to temper Kamro's impulsive nature and fierce protective instincts.
"I've been ready for quite some time," she informed
her older brother as she joined him in the hall. "In fact, both Leah and I have
been waiting for you."
As if to confirm this, the small blue Wocky
padded into the hallway, adjusting the belt which carried most of her mountain
climbing gear as she came. Leah was the youngest and smallest of the three,
a shy, quiet child for whom both Kamro and Satiria felt deeply responsible.
Leah was the sort who got good grades, but would never have any popular friends-
in fact, she rarely made any lasting friendships at all. Newcomers to Neoschool
seemed to gravitate toward her, but no matter how hard she tried to be kind
to them and to make them feel at home, she always seemed to simply fade out
of their lives as they got adjusted and moved on to 'cooler' and more popular
friends. This trend had always bothered the older two, but Leah quietly took
it in stride as a normal part of her life, and neither Kamro nor Satiria had
ever heard her utter a word of complaint, either about her lack of friends or
the loss of her parents. She had been rather badly shaken the one time she was
singled out by a bully, but one brief confrontation between the offending Moehog
and Kamro had ensured that Leah was never bothered again.
"Are we going now?" the little Wocky asked,
and Kamro smiled and nodded.
"You bet, Lee. Both of you got all of your gear?"
Satiria nodded, and Kamro knew that if she thought
she had packed everything she would need, then she had definitely gotten all
of her gear, and she'd have made certain that Leah did, too.
"So, why aren't we going to Terror Mountain?"
Leah asked as she followed Kamro down the stairs and out the door.
"Because Terror Mountain is too far away," Kamro
answered, "and besides, so many people have climbed it that it's really nothing
special. The mountains at the edge of the woods, however- I don't think anybody's
climbed those, and they're only a few miles away from here."
The three siblings lapsed into silence as they
made their way through the Haunted Woods, Kamro leading the way with his easy,
rolling lope, Leah padding along quietly behind him, and Satiria bringing up
the rear as had become her custom of late. To some, the Haunted Woods were spooky
and intimidating, but to these three it was home; nevertheless, caution was
still a thing not to be lightly tossed aside, and Satiria preferred to keep
a close eye on the small and vulnerable Leah.
Suddenly a commotion reached their ears, and
the siblings turned in the direction of the noise with matching frowns of worry
on their faces. Kamro was the first to begin walking toward the source of the
sound, and Leah was right behind him in an instant. "I thought you were in a
hurry," Satiria remarked as she joined them after a moment's hesitation. A tumult
of voices in the middle of the Haunted Woods could mean anything, and Satiria
wasn't sure that she wanted to see Leah in the middle of it.
"The mountains aren't going to be leveled overnight,"
Kamro replied over his shoulder as he broke into a run. "Something's going on,
and I want to know what it is!"
As they neared the source of the commotion,
Kamro slowed to a halt while Leah took a few tentative steps past him before
coming to a stop. What they saw was nothing like what they had expected. Arnold
was being carried into a makeshift infirmary- on a stretcher!
Satiria bounded over to the injured Mynci's
side. "What happened?" she asked, and Arnold's eyes flashed with indignation
and a memory of fear.
"That… that slimy thing attacked me!"
"What thing?" the Cybunny asked, and as she
spoke she sensed Kamro standing behind her with Leah at his side. Not surprisingly,
the young Wocky said nothing, but her eyes expressed her concern.
"From what we could tell, it was a big, gangly
black thing, with leathery wings and a serious bite," a Techo who was helping
to carry the stretcher answered gravely, and it was clear that he wasn't joking.
"It tackled Arnold while he was out taking a walk."
Kamro tensed, and Satiria could tell what he
was thinking: the protective Zafara wasn't at all pleased with the idea that
something was nearby that might attack his little sisters. "Where was this?"
Kamro asked, his voice tight with worry.
"North… well, more like northwest of here,"
the Techo answered. "At least, that was where he was coming from when we found
him running like a scared Cybunny- no offense," he added when he remembered
that Satiria was listening. "He made it most of the way here, and then he just
collapsed. We tried to find the thing that attacked him, but there was no sign
of anything out of the ordinary."
Kamro frowned in deep concentration. "I think
we'd better postpone our climbing expedition until tomorrow," he said, then
added as he turned away, "I hope you recover quickly, sir."
Arnold nodded, his eyes narrowing. "Oh, you
bet I will. Some friends of mine are going to set a few traps, and see if we
can't nab this scumbag. Maybe we'll see how it likes a few strong Neopets testing
their strength on it!" he added darkly, curling his paws as if fingering a wooden
As they turned to head for home, both Kamro
and Satiria noticed that Leah seemed even quieter than usual, although despite
the glint of sadness in her azure eyes it was difficult to tell what was passing
through her mind.
A good night's sleep had served to alleviate
some of the dark weight which the incident had placed on his mind, and by the
next day Kamro was as ready and upbeat as ever, although there was a deep, sharp
flicker of watchfulness in his dark eyes.
The sad, thoughtful quietness that had settled
over Leah on the previous day had yet to lift, and Kamro hoped that the hike
and the following climb would help to put her worries out of her mind. For some
added excitement he and Satiria decided that they would spend the night on the
mountain, although the decision was made more to distract Leah than anything
else. But the news seemed to have little effect, and as they set out for the
mountains the small Wocky seemed only to grow even more preoccupied.
Suddenly Satiria frowned, her long ears flicking
and swiveling as she twisted her head in an effort to catch a trace of some
faint, elusive sound. "What was that?" she asked, and Kamro responded with a
"How should I know? My hearing isn't as good
as yours." Although he kept his tone light, Kamro's heart had redoubled its
pace, and the image of Arnold on a stretcher crept like a dark mist into his
The look of worry on Satiria's face deepened.
"It sounds almost like a Korbat's wings, but I've never heard a Korbat flying
that fast. It's strange, though… the sound doesn't seem to be getting any nearer
or farther away."
The Cybunny's frown spread to her siblings'
faces. "We'll approach it quietly," Kamro decided. "Lead the way, but be careful.
I want to see whatever it is without it seeing or hearing us."
Satiria nodded, then began to creep slowly in
the general direction of the sound. As they got closer, first Kamro, then Leah
began to hear it: a faint, leathery flapping, like a frantic Korbat flying desperately
in one place. Kamro felt his fur begin to dampen with a trickle of cold sweat
despite the low temperature of the woods. "Didn't that Techo say something about
'leathery wings'?" he whispered, and Satiria turned and put a paw to her lips.
As the Cybunny hesitated, Kamro quickened his pace slightly, taking his place
at the head of the group, where he would be the first to encounter any danger.
Kamro had thought he would see it first, but
before his searching eyes found anything he heard a faint gasp from Leah. Kamro
was about to turn around and ask if she was all right when suddenly the hair
on his neck and back stood rigid, and every muscle in his body stiffened in
response to an electric jolt of alarm. There it was, only twenty feet ahead
of him, the pitch-black scales which covered its enormous body almost blending
in with the darkness of its surroundings. It was ten feet tall and whip-thin,
with long, spidery arms and legs and piercing topaz eyes. Huge, batlike wings
extended from either side of its lanky body, but its ears, while similar in
shape to those of a Korbat, were smaller and pointed, sticking straight up from
the sides of its narrow head. Kamro had no idea what the creature was, but he
did know that he didn't want to get in a fight with it; not only was the strange
being huge, but it was clear that this was the same creature that had attacked
and injured Arnold. With a silent wave of his paw, the Zafara motioned for the
others to get down, and all three of them crouched against the ground in the
questionable shelter of the twiggy skeleton of a bush.
For a moment the creature just stood there,
only its head moving as it glanced around as if hearing the siblings but unable
to tell where they were. All three Neopets instinctively held their breath,
and watched in fascination as it spread its wings to full length, then leapt
up into the air and began to flap furiously, its massive wings becoming huge,
shadowy blurs. But as hard as it seemed to be flying, it was clear that it wasn't
going anywhere. All three siblings seemed to notice at the same time, and three
pairs of eyes widened as they saw the reason for the creature's immobility:
its left foot was held firmly in the jaws of a steel trap.
To be continued...