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We All Had Each Other: Part Two


by tiger_kitty7788

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Zephyr crept carefully among tiny shacks and empty water barrels, taking an indirect course towards where Darigan and, apparently, Galgarroth, strolled towards the first crooked semicircle of little dwellings.

      His paws shook in fear and anticipation, nearly causing him to trip and land upon his face more than once, coming close to re-injuring his poor, aching nose.

      And then, the two were upon the small street that curved among the silent shacks. A tall, bone-thin Korbat, grey and daunting, dressed in a thin robe of swishing black material, walking beside an intimidating Grarrl of an orange sort of color, who glanced from side to side, searching for any sign of life.

      Not far... not far...

      When he had crawled to within five feet of the two, the Gelert halted. Darigan's yellow eyes were upon him. And there was no anger in those depths.

      "Hello there. And, who are you?"

      His tongue had frozen, thick and heavy in his mouth. He couldn't answer. It was as if the air had been knocked from his lungs by the mere force of the kindly words.

      "I... uhh..."

      "No need to be frightened."

      Zephyr edged another two steps closer, and then three, and he was standing beside the imposing ruler.

      There, hanging from the belt of the Grarrl. A leather pouch, the sort any peasant might wear. But this jingled temptingly with delicate metal.

      And, in one fluid movement, before either of the two could react, his jaws were upon that small purse, and he was running, leaving behind the shouts of shock and feeble attempts at pursuit.

      What had he just done?

     ***

      That small Gelert seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Darigan had been intrigued by those orange-gold eyes, filled with hidden pain and a tentative longing. And so he had invited the youngster closer. Only to have the child clamp his teeth firmly upon Galgarroth's coin pouch and run as if the very hordes of the Darigan army pursued him.

      Galgarroth had nearly tried to run after him, an idea the Korbat stopped with one hand on the Grarrl's shoulder.

      "No."

      "The little scoundrel! Did you see that, sir?"

      Darigan had seen. But he had done more than that. Darigan had understood. That sort of poverty often drove the good to do what would never have been justified anywhere else.

      By the eyes, it was obvious that the boy had never attempted that sort of feat before. He had been afraid, timid, clumsy in the attempt.

      And it had worked.

      "We can't just allow him to escape!"

      But Darigan was no longer listening to his counselor. His thoughts were no longer on the moment.

      "Kass... I'm afraid. It's dark."

      The night was cold, and windy, and so pitch-black that the claw couldn't be seen if placed two inches before the nose.

      But Kass wasn't afraid. He was always brave, and now he was watching over his diminutive friend.

      "It's been dark before. Nothing is going to happen to us."

      Of course nothing would happen to them. No one would hurt them. No one cared.

      The world didn't mind that two little Neopets would go hungry in the morning, trying to scrape the barest needs of survival from a land that did not welcome them.

      "We'll be friends forever. Won't we?"

      "Of course we will, Darigan."

      The Korbat ruler's eyes went clear again, snapping the deserted, dusty street back into focus.

      "He did what any of these needy children might do. We cannot fault him for that."

     ***

      Despite the sick, painful feelings in the pit of his stomach, Zephyr decided to use that taken money as he had intended. Could he really use stolen coins to buy food? Could he make himself eat that food?

      He had no choice. If he wanted to eat that night, he had no other choice.

      He could not do that again. Despite years of hardship, he had never done something so openly criminal before, and would not try to make himself do it again.

     ***

      Really, it wasn't as difficult as he had expected it to be. Slipping three of the smooth, glistening coins into his quivering paw, approaching the meager stand where good old Kiyle had always sold his Meridell-bought/stolen goods, placing them firmly upon the rough wood and selecting one of the most beautiful loaves of white bread he had ever seen before.

      It felt warm and light in his paws as he hurried towards home. Zephyr would surely have to hide his treasure, or else one of the larger, stronger children might attempt to take it from him.

      Without doubt this could feed him for at least two days! And there were more of the lovely coins where those three had come from, stowed securely in the little leather pouch, safe in their soft velvet-lined pocket. When that had run out, perhaps he would find a better way to obtain the sustenance he needed. Surely someone would welcome the assistance of a capable young Neopet, in exchange for food.

      Only a one-time thing that he had done. Nothing he would do again.

      Just that once...

     ***

      "Get back here, you thieving scum!"

      Zephyr's feet fell light and sure upon the rough stone as he raced down the wide street, firmly clenching the fabric of the secured satchel between his strong jaws.

      The rush was nothing new, yet he enjoyed it every time. It felt something like success.

      It was no trouble to get his nimble paws upon something he could use. Why, he'd even secured food items from Kiyle once or twice, without the ragged, aged Kyrii ever noticing a thing.

      Time seemed to pass far more quickly with a decent amount of food in his belly. Over the course of several months, Zephyr had grown quickly, had gained muscle and size. And speed. Not even Terr could come close to catching him now, as their continuing games of 'Yooyuball' showed.

      He had become good at it. Not just at providing himself with what he needed, but at hurtling swiftly across the stretch of street used for playing to send the rubber ball flying past outstretched paws and between the stones.

      Did his friend suspect? He couldn't tell. But, who wouldn't? That timorous, clumsy Gelert was no more, replaced by strength, and cunning, and agility.

      Ed? He hadn't been moved from the dustiest corner of Zephyr's small home for a number of weeks now.

      Abandoned, just like so many other things. Morals. Kindness. Awkwardness. Zephyr was glad to see some of it go.

      He slid to an easy stop upon reaching the drab semicircles he still called home.

      They were far quieter now. A fair number of the residents had left for better lands, real jobs, finding their niche in the wide world.

      But that sort of thing wasn't for the grocer-dubbed 'Shadow-Paw.' He had found his place. Something he was truly good at.

      And he had gained quite the reputation.

     ***

      Darigan could ignore this no longer.

      There had been the odd complaint at first - a swiped cabbage, a missing blanket. These he had overheard within his own walls within five days.

      And then it grew. Didn't everything? There was someone, or something, in the lower parts of the city, taking almost anything it could get its paws upon.

      The ruler of the Citadel had little doubt about what 'it' was.

      The stories told with wide eyes only served to harden his certainty. Red fur. Long, black ears. Flashing, orange-gold eyes.

      So innocent, only a few months before. And now that timid child had turned into... this?

      He didn't want to believe it. But it would be irresponsible not to.

      Despite his misgivings, it was time to take serious action.

     ***

      "It's all right, Zephyr... it's all right... Mommy will be all right..."

      Fuzziness... cold sheets... teary eyes... shouts from Papa... being pushed aside onto the floor... watching as Mommy's eyes went cold and blank... and Papa was screaming...

      Zephyr awoke abruptly, flailing with all four frantic paws.

      And it was a dream. Of course it was a dream. Mother had been dead and gone for years, followed swiftly by Papa. Zephyr had always believed that it was because of a broken heart.

      Often, during his first days alone, he had believed that his own heart was breaking. He would put a paw over it and tell it to keep beating for another day. He wasn't ready to die.

      Several years after that time of grieving, staring about at a decent supply of food and the dim light of a candle, he wasn't so sure anymore.

      There was only one thing to do when having such crushing, convicting thoughts.

      Zephyr pulled a dusty, nearly forgotten Ed into his arms.

      And then, alone and weary, he began to cry.

     ***

      The very next day, a determined band of silver-black garbed Darigani guards could be seen marching through the streets of the Darigan Citadel. Searching for one errant citizen by the nickname of 'Shadow-Paw.'

      No one could give a real name. They would have to go by description.

      Which wouldn't be too difficult. After all, Lord Darigan had even informed them of the correct neighborhood to search.

     ***

      "Zephyr! Let me in! Open the door!"

      Zephyr awoke a second time, curled in the corner with Ed by his side, to a frantic pounding upon his weak door. Much more of that would likely bring the thing toppling down.

      Rather reluctant to lose his one and only door, the Gelert allowed his visitor to enter.

      Never had he seen Terr looking so horribly frantic.

      "You have to go. Now!"

      Zephyr leaned back on his four paws, regarding his friend incredulously.

      "What do you mean, 'I have to go'?"

      Terr paced a nervous circle on the dirt floor, fast enough to wear a thin groove before responding several seconds later.

      "They're coming for you. It looks like you've finally given Darigan as much as he's going to take."

      Zephyr's mouth dropped open, his tongue lolling to one side in an expression of surprise.

      "How did you-"

      "How did I know? Come on. I'm your best friend. Of course I know what you've been up to. I can pound you for it later. Now, go!"

To be continued...

 
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» We All Had Each Other: Part One
» We All Had Each Other: Part Three



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