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Needed Adventure: Part Nine


by tdyans

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There was a moment just after the cage doors swung fully open that seemed to stretch on forever, silent and still, and even the crackling of the growing flames and the screaming of the fire alarm seemed to fade into the distance.

     Then everything snapped back into focus. They were back in the here and now, and the pets who had been hovering at the edges of their cages, staring out at the freedom before them as if at an old friend who they had thought long dead, now were galvanized into action. Those who could leapt from their cages with shouts of triumph, stretching muscles that had been too long cramped and unused and then turning to give aid to the older pets and those who were in the higher-up cages.

     "Stop them!" the woman shouted, but before her two underlings could take more than a step, they were knocked to the floor by the stream of pets that was now rushing toward the door, and found themselves held there by a Kau and Uni.

     The woman gritted her teeth. "Why do I have to do everything mys-- ooph!" Her tirade was cut short as she found herself knocked down as well. She rolled over onto her back and looked up to see Enzo standing over her, teeth bared.

     "You're not doing this," he said. She seemed to concede defeat, at least for the time being, not offering any struggle, but still refusing to look at all intimidated by the growling Gelert.

     Enzo turned his head to look back at the doorway. Cambry stood on one side of it and Jonas' shouted directions indicated that he was on the other, though he remained invisible as ever. They were doing their best to keep the crowd of pets under control and get them through the door and outside to safety as quickly as possible, but with the number of pets and the greatness of their excitement, their efforts seemed to be doing little good. Every pet was anxious to get through the door and out of this place, and the narrow doorway was crowded with hurried pushing and shoving that only slowed the whole process down.

     Enzo cast a nervous glance up at the ceiling. The fire had spread across almost the whole room, and burnt bits of the ceiling were beginning to fall to the floor. The fire had been their salvation, but if they weren't careful it would be their doom as well. They had to hurry.

     Slowly, too slowly, the room began to empty pet by pet. It seemed like an eternity to Enzo as he felt ash and embers raining down gently upon his fur and he continued to look worriedly between the dwindling crowd and the growing fire. Finally, even as the fire had begun to spread to the two adjoining rooms, the last of the pets made her way out, leaving only Jonas, Cambry, the Uni and Kau, Enzo and the three humans.

     "Enzo!" Cambry called out shakily. Enzo looked at her, seeing the fear that glistened in her eyes as the flames reflected off of them. He realized that all the anxiety that he had been suffering had been nothing compared to her terror at staying in this room as the flames spread. And yet she had stayed, to help the others.

     "Hurry up, lad!" Jonas called, stamping one of his hooves against the floor. "We'd best get out of here before the place falls apart around our heads!"

     "Listen to him," the woman said, a hint of desperation creeping into her voice for the first time.

     Enzo turned to her with a snarl. "'Listen to him?'" he growled. "That's the first time you've shown any interest in listening to him or any other pet in here. Well, listen to this: you will never do anything like this ever again. You will not rebuild this place or any other place like it. You will not use pets for your own gain. Not. Ever. Again."

     The woman frowned. "Very well."

     "Promise!" Enzo snapped.

     She sighed. "I promise."

     "I'll hold you to that." He looked to the Kau and Uni who held the two men down. "Let them up and get out of here as quickly as possible." They nodded and did as they were told. The two men scrambled to their feet and went running toward the doorway behind them.

     Enzo gave the woman one more long, hard stare before letting her up as well. She stood with much more deliberation and dignity than the two men had, dusting the ash from her coat and then walking calmly from the room as if it was not covered in flames.

     "Enzo, please," Cambry cried.

     "I'm coming," he said, trying to offer a reassuring smile as he trotted toward the door to join his friends.

     But the smile fell away quickly when he heard the almost deafening crack from above, like a peal of thunder tearing through the sky. He looked up just in time to see a beam come crashing down through the burning ceiling. He leapt backwards, watching breathlessly as the end of the heavy piece of wood crashed down right where he had been just a second before. Splinters and sparks flew at him, but he hardly noticed them as the cracking sounds resounded overhead again, seeming to spread across the whole ceiling. Several more burning beams fell down beside the first, each with a horrible crash, until there was a fiery wall separating Enzo from Cambry and Jonas-- and the doorway.

     "Enzo!" Cambry cried. Enzo struggled to see her through the leaping flames.

     "Cambry, Jonas, get out of here!"

     "Enzo, no!"

     "Don't worry about me," he called out. "I'll find another way out. Just get out of here before any more of those beams give. Go to the junkyard, like I told you. I'll meet you there."

     "Enzo..." Cambry's voice was uncertain, a mixture of her fear of the fire and her fear for him.

     "I promise," he said. "Now go!"

     "Come on, lass," he heard Jonas say. "He'll be all right, you'll see."

     Enzo stayed there, staring through the blaze until he was sure that he could no longer see the brown of Cambry's fur. Finally, he turned around. Now that his friends were safe, it was time to see to himself.

     There were two doors on this side of the room. One he knew housed the various rays, as they were wheeled in and out of it every morning and evening, so it wasn't likely to do him any good. The other he wasn't sure of-- the woman had spent much of her time in there, so it might have been anything-- but it was his best chance of finding a way out.

     He ran toward the door, trying to ignore the flames that licked at him from the walls and the foreboding creaking of the fiery ceiling overhead. He reached up a paw, struggling awkwardly and hurriedly with the handle.

     "Still having trouble with those, I see."

     Enzo looked up at the sound of the familiar voice to see Whooter fluttering just over his head. The petpet, his brown feathers slightly darkened by the smoke and ash, settled on the door handle, and his weight was just enough to push it down.

     "Whooter! I thought you'd gotten out with everyone else!"

     "Yes, well, someone had to stay behind to watch after you. Obviously," he added, nodding pointedly at the door handle. "Now, let's get out of here, shall we, and we can save the rest of the small talk for later."

     Enzo chuckled in spite of everything. "Yes, Whooter." With Whooter still perched on the door handle, the Gelert pushed against the door, and it swung slowly open. Whooter left the handle to rest on top of Enzo's head.

     The room that the pair found themselves looking in on appeared to be a small office-- or at least, that was what it appeared to have been once, for the fire had already spread to it, and the furniture and files that were not already destroyed were engulfed in flames.

     But through the overbearing heat and suffocating smoke, Enzo focused in on one thing: a small window on the other side of the room. "Whooter," he said, "wait here."

     "Enzo, what are you--!" Whooter's words were cut short as Enzo ran out from under him, racing forward and leaving him fluttering alone in the thick air. Enzo braced himself, closed his eyes, and leaped straight through the window. He felt the glass resist and then shatter around him, and then suddenly his feet were on the ground again-- not the smooth hard floor now, but snow-covered grass-- and shards of glass were raining down around his feet.

     He spun around to see Whooter come flying through the hole that he had left in the pane of glass. "Do you ever do anything the easy way?" the whoot asked, breathlessly, as if he had been the one who'd just performed the dangerous feat.

     Enzo cocked an eyebrow at him and offered a sly smile. "That wasn't the easy way?"

     Whooter just sighed.

     "Hey," Enzo said, "at least we got out, right? Home free--"

     A now-familiar sound of creaking and rumbling interrupted, and the two turned to stare at the wall of the building from which they'd just escaped. The flames now rose up out of the building, clawing at the sky, its blue marred by the choking grey smoke. The building groaned again, and with a sudden sinking feeling, Enzo realized what was about to happen.

     "Run!" he yelled, and instead of waiting for Whooter to respond, he grabbed the end of the whoot's tail feathers in his teeth and shot away from the building as quickly as he could.

     "Enzo!" Whooter cried, indignant, as he dangled from the Gelert's mouth. "What are you doing? Put me down this instant and tell me what's going--"

     Whooter's tirade was cut short when he looked back to see what Enzo had predicted: the burning wall falling down toward them. "Faster!" he shouted.

     Enzo raced forward, trying to get out of the path of the tumbling wall, his eyes fixed on the tree line; if he could reach it, they should be safe. If not.... He fought the urge to look over his shoulder; it would only slow him down, and that he could not afford.

     He was only a few feet away from those trees, but he could feel the heat of the fiery wall licking at his back, about to crash down upon him. He made one last desperate leap, landing sprawled in the snow, and then all he could do was lie there, hoping that it had been enough.

     Half a second later, the wall crashed to the ground behind him. Shaking and panting, he stood to his feet, dropping Whooter unceremoniously from his mouth, and turned to survey the remains of the wall-- a field of brick and wood and sputtering flames, the very edge of which had landed only a few feet away. He and Whooter just stood there for several minutes, staring at the rubble and the fire that still raged behind it and catching their breath.

     "What were you saying about that being the easy way?" asked Whooter.

     Enzo turned from the fire and destruction to the trees behind him, the beginning of the forest that surrounded the outer edges of Neopia Central. Blanketed in snow, quiet and unmoving, it seemed like a whole world away from the scene of noise and destruction that was in reality only a few feet away. His father had talked about the forest before-- about foraging excursions with Uncle Brenner, running through the wild grasses and among the trees and picking berries straight from the bush. He had promised to take Enzo one day, but that day had not come before....

     Enzo drew himself out of his thoughts, focusing resolutely on the physical world around him instead. It was then, for the first time, that he really noticed the snow-- the stinging wet cold of it against the pads of his paws and the strange crisp smell that it gave to the air. Snow.... Was it really that long that we were in that horrible place? He took a few steps further into the forest, enjoying the crunch of the snow.

     "Enzo, what are you doing?" Whooter asked, sounding slightly anxious.

     Enzo turned his head to look at him. "What do you mean?"

     "I mean, you told Cambry and Jonas you'd meet them at the junkyard. And the junkyard is that way." He pointed in the opposite direction, a hint of pleading in his expression.

     "Yes, well... but we can't very well walk straight through-- the fire's in the way. We'll have to go around a bit before we can head back into the city safely...."

     "Enzo..."

     "And besides, I've been locked up in a cage for-- well, it must have been months if it's snowing-- so I think I deserve to stretch my legs, just a bit."

     "Enzo..."

     "Just a bit, Whooter."

     The whoot sighed and fluttered after him, knowing it was hopeless. "Just a bit," he said.

     Smiling, Enzo ventured deeper into the forest, eyes and ears and nose alert. He had seen snow before, once when he was still just a puppy, but snow in the city quickly became dirty slush and soon lost its novelty. This snow was something different altogether. The forest seemed untouched and so beautiful and exhilarating as he made his own path of paw prints through the trees. It wasn't long before he found himself running, kicking up the white powder and yipping excitedly, just as he and his sisters had done that morning of their first snow. Whooter flapped after him, trying desperately to keep up and calling out for him to slow down or stop.

     Enzo finally heeded the harried whoot's shouts, spinning to a stop and waiting, watching his breath shoot from his mouth in short white puffs. Whooter finally caught up with him and immediately collapsed into the snow at his paws and glaring upward. "Just... a... bit?" he said between gasps.

     Enzo just laughed, still a little breathless himself. "Oh come on, Whooter. Lighten up!"

     "Hmph!" Whooter slowly stood to his claws and brushed the snow from his feathers. "One of us needs to keep his head, at least, and that's clearly not going to be you." Enzo rolled his eyes, but whether the whoot noticed or not, he continued his lecture undaunted. "If you really must for whatever silly reason venture this far into the forest, at least don't be so careless about it. It wouldn't do for us to get separated out here, you know."

     "Whooter, would you relax? What could possibly happen?" He turned, trotted forward a few paces, and suddenly disappeared with a surprised yelp.

     "Enzo!" Whooter flapped the few feet forward to where the Gelert had disappeared from sight and found himself looking down a Gelert-sized trough freshly carved in the side of a hill. He covered his eyes with a claw. "Oh, what now?"

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Adventure: Part One
» Needed Adventure: Part Two
» Needed Adventure: Part Three
» Needed Adventure: Part Four
» Needed Adventure: Part Five
» Needed Adventure: Part Six
» Needed Adventure: Part Seven
» Needed Adventure: Part Eight
» Needed Adventure: Part Ten



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