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The Orphan and the Beast: Part Two


by sarahleeadvent

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As Kamro watched the creature’s efforts to escape, his wide eyes fixed with rapt fascination on the scene in front of him, he suddenly became aware of a quiet movement a few feet off to his left; but he didn’t want to tear his eyes away from the strange spectacle he was witnessing until Satiria’s voice suddenly brought him to his senses: “Leah? Where are you going?”

      Kamro snapped into full awareness with a jolt, and to his horrified astonishment he saw Leah moving slowly in the direction of the trapped being. “Leah, stop!” he whispered hoarsely, but the Wocky didn’t seem to notice him. She moved quietly forward as if in a daze, her footsteps soft and her eyes fixed upon the strange entity. Kamro began to rise, but no sooner had he started to move than he froze, for the creature seemed to be looking straight at him.

      For several seconds the Zafara crouched immobile, and in that time Leah drew to within ten feet of the creature. The seemingly unnatural being’s gaze abruptly turned toward the Wocky, and at the sight of that huge creature turning its attention to his sister Kamro’s hackles rose, and he leapt to his feet and snatched a pick out of his belt.

      “NO!” Satiria hissed desperately, and came very close to spraining both her wrist and Kamro’s in a frantic attempt to snatch the tool from the Zafara’s paw. “Don’t scare it- she’s almost within striking range!”

      Kamro nodded, then put the pick away and began slowly and silently edging his way toward Leah, unable to prevent his fingers from running over the handle of the sharp-edged tool as he approached the towering creature which now stood only a few feet away from his sister. Oh, Leah, what in Neopia are you doing?

      The small Wocky was now within arm’s reach of the creature, and Kamro quickened his pace as he braced himself for a scene of horror, filled with screams of agony from his precious little sister. Kamro and Satiria had squabbled on occasion, but sweet, quiet Leah had never bothered anyone, and Kamro couldn’t bear the idea of losing her this way.

      Strange- the creature didn’t seem to be having any overt reaction to Leah’s approach. Instead it was merely studying her, staring into her eyes as she returned its gaze, her glistening eyes soft and gentle as she continued to draw nearer. She didn’t lower her eyes even when she was right in front of the thing, and to Kamro’s astonishment, it still didn’t attack her. But she was so vulnerable! It could have shredded her in an instant, and yet it let her be. Kamro didn’t understand it- why would it leave a child alone when it had already attacked a fully grown Mynci?

      Maybe, he realized, it’s because someone so small and harmless couldn’t possibly be taken as a threat. Leah’s eyes, her bearing, even the way she walked was gentle, as if she thought the bat-creature was afraid and was trying not to frighten it. The child came to a stop only a foot away from the creature’s long, spidery legs, and continued to meet its gaze as she slowly lowered herself to one knee. Only when she was all the way down did she lower her eyes; and then slowly, cautiously, being careful not to make any sudden moves, Leah reached for the trap and pushed the release.

      The creature winced as the grip of the steel jaws relaxed, and Leah could see two deep, ugly gashes in its ankles as it tugged its foot free. The older siblings were too far away to see the cuts, but even Satiria could see the slight limp as the creature backed away from the trap. A few paces away from Leah it paused, and for a moment it stood towering over the little Wocky, staring at her strangely before slowly unfurling its enormous wings and rising into the air. Leah slowly straightened up, watching with wide eyes as the creature vanished into the darkness.

      As if a barrier had snapped Kamro rushed toward his sister, almost crashing into her in his haste. As the Zafara skidded to a stop, Leah jumped as if his arrival had jolted her out of a trance. “Leah, are you all right?” Kamro asked anxiously. He hadn’t seen anything happen that might have hurt her, but the question just had to be asked.

      Leah nodded slowly, as if coming out of a dream. “Yes, I am. He didn’t attack me, Kamro.”

      “Why did you do that? You could have been killed!” Satiria’s voice rose almost to a shriek as she came barrelling toward her siblings.

      As Leah hesitated, Kamro added a question of his own. “Leah, how did you know that it wouldn’t attack you? That was quite a risk you took.”

      A slow, soft smile spread across Leah’s face. “But that’s a good thing, isn’t it? To take a risk once in a while?”

      “But you didn’t answer my question. How did you know?”

      Leah looked thoughtful for a moment, and during her hesitation it struck Kamro for the first time that she had looked the creature in the eye for longer than she had ever been able to when meeting the gaze of another Neopet. “I didn’t know,” she finally answered. “All I knew was that if I were caught in a trap, I’d be scared and I would want someone to get me out.”

      “But that thing attacked Arnold. Now that it’s free, what’s to stop it from attacking someone else?” Satiria asked.

      It was clear that Leah wasn’t sure how to answer that one. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said quietly. “All I was really thinking about was what Arnold said about people ‘testing their strength’ on him, and I know I wouldn’t want to get hit with that mallet.”

      Kamro smiled fondly at his sister. Trust Leah to be worried about another person’s problem that nobody else even thought about. “I don’t think he meant it literally,” Kamro began, but paused when he saw Satiria shaking her head.

      “I don’t know about that. He looked angry enough.”

      Leah nodded knowingly. “Arnold has a lot of people on his side, but I think that creature was all alone. Sort of like I’d be in Neoschool, if it wasn’t for both of you.” Glancing from the trap to the patch of sky into which the creature had disappeared, she added softly, “You’re always there to look out for me when I’m in trouble. But he didn’t have a Kamro or Satiria.”

      “That’s probably a good thing,” Satiria answered wisely. “What he needed was a Leah. Bullies leave you alone because Kamro and I are too big for them- but if we tried to make friends with that… whatever it is… by being tough, we would probably have gotten pounded just like Arnold. I think you were able to approach him without getting hurt because no one could possibly be threatened by you.”

      Leah beamed at her sister, and Kamro thought he had never seen her looking so proud. The Zafara’s bravery had always been beyond question, but now he found himself standing in awe of the quiet courage of his gentle little sister. “So,” he said, “do you want to go back home, or should we go and climb the mountain? It’s your choice, Leah.”

      The Wocky’s face broke into a grin. “I feel like I could climb a hundred mountains!” she exclaimed joyfully. “Let’s go!”

      Kamro grinned back, and prepared to follow Leah as she raced off.

      “Stop!” wailed Satiria, and both Wocky and Zafara skittered to a halt. “What if there are other traps around here? Leah obviously knows how to open them, but all the same I’d rather not get my foot caught in one of those.” Reaching down, the Cybunny picked up a long, sturdy stick, and began feeling her way forward with it. “There,” she said with a triumphant smile. “I’ll go ahead and test for traps.”

      Kamro shrugged and gave her an easy grin, and he and Leah cheerfully fell into step behind Satiria as they continued on toward the mountains of the Haunted Woods.

***

      Several hours later, the three siblings sat together on the top of the mountains, breathing deeply of the fresh, cool air which softly caressed the mountaintop. The sun had set over an hour ago, and the dark sky sparkled with stars like an endless field of snowy jewels scattered across a vast cushion of velvety black silk, each gem glittering with a heart of white fire.

      Kamro heaved a deep, contented sigh. “You’ll never see stars like this from a house in the Haunted Woods,” he murmured, and his sisters nodded in silence.

      After a few more minutes, Satiria stirred and asked, “Shouldn’t we be getting to sleep? We’ve still got to climb down in the morning.”

      “There’s no hurry,” Kamro responded, reluctant to tear his eyes away from the dazzling canopy of stars. “We’ve got all the time in the world. After all, it’s not like it’s a school night or anything.”

      “Oooh, look at those two!” Leah breathed. “They look like a pair of rubies! Do you see them?”

      Kamro twisted his head, and it took him only a second to locate the twin points of light that Leah was talking about. “Wow, you’re right,” he said. “And they’re big, too! Strange, I don’t remember having seen them earlier- do you, Satiria?” The Cybunny shook her head, and Kamro’s forehead creased into a frown. He was right- those new stars certainly were big- but what bothered him now was that they seemed to be getting bigger.

      The shadow Zafara tensed with sudden misgiving. Those ‘stars’ were moving toward him and his sisters, and suddenly the stars around it flickered and went out. An instant after they vanished, however, they suddenly returned; then a moment later they fled and reappeared again. Kamro felt a chill creep up his spine as the stars continued their pattern of being there and gone, and a dark suspicion crept into his mind. Another vanishing and return, and it suddenly became agonizingly clear. Those glowing red things which Leah had taken for stars were actually gleaming ruby eyes, and the things that kept covering the stars were two massive wings, moving up and down in a slow and ominous rhythm. “Everyone get back! Get away from the edge!” Kamro gasped, and recoiled along with his sisters as the flying thing drew nearer. It briefly crossed his mind to wonder if the creature Leah had rescued was back; but then he remembered that that being’s eyes had been yellow, not red. As the flying thing drew nearer and the fire in its crimson eyes burned into Kamro’s heart and memory like flaming coals of malice, he whispered to Leah out of the side of his mouth, “I don’t suppose you’re going to try to make friends with that one?”

      Leah shook her head, her movements numb with terror, and as an ear-splitting shriek from the approaching creature tore the night apart Kamro heard his own voice wailing, “RUN!”

      Kamro bolted right while Satiria dodged to the left, and Leah, young and inexperienced and wild with panic, unwisely chose to flee directly along the creature’s path.

      Kamro dove to the ground as a tempest of feathers and darkness shot past him, and before the wind from its passing had finished ruffling his fur the Zafara had leapt up and whirled around to see why the bird-thing had passed him by. What he saw made his heart falter in midbeat. Sweet, innocent Leah was sprinting along in a panic, fading into the darkness as she got farther away; and only forty feet behind her, what looked like a massive and twisted black eagle flapped furiously in eager pursuit of its prey. For the second time that day Kamro’s pick flew from his belt to his hand, and leaping into a run he turned his head to call to Satiria, “We’ve got to do something! Come on!”

      The Cybunny quickly overtook Kamro with long bounds of her massive hind legs, and for the first time in his life Kamro wished desperately that he hadn’t been born a Zafara. Turning his eyes from Satiria to Leah, Kamro felt his heart twist. The terrified Wocky was racing ahead with a speed Kamro had never imagined that any wingless Neopet could achieve, but her pursuer was catching up with each sweeping beat of its massive jet-black wings. Kamro wished that he and his sisters had taken off their gear, but he didn’t have time to shed it now, however much it slowed him down. Tightening his grip on his pick, Kamro flung it at the creature’s retreating tail feathers with the strength of desperation; but the action created no difference, for the pick fell short and the falcon flew on, not even noticing the Zafara’s pitiful attack.

      Kamro’s breath came in sharp, deep, ragged gasps, but nothing could make him slow down. Reaching toward the ground, he scooped up the pick in midstride, and prepared to throw it again. There was no hope in such an effort, for the creature was even farther away from him now than it had been on the first attempt; but for the sake of Leah, his sister and one of the two most important things in his world, he had to try again. “Don’t run straight, Leah!” he howled. “Dodge! Zig-zag! Don’t let it get you! I’m coming!”

      But even as he spoke Kamro could see two wicked sets of claws extending downward from the speeding creature’s body, groping eagerly for Leah. Even as the falcon reached for its prey Kamro could see the horror playing out in his mind: those horrible talons driving themselves into Leah’s sides, the scream of fear and agony, the sickening vision of the creature flying away with his precious sister held roughly in its cruel grasp, while Kamro stood helplessly, unable to do anything but watch.

      It must not happen! The desperate Zafara put on an extra burst of speed that he hadn’t known he was capable of, but even as his legs sped beneath him he knew that it was no use. Leah was doomed to die. Less than a second from now the images that had flashed through Kamro’s head would begin to come true…

To be continued...

 
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