Needed Adventure: Part Ten
Enzo was as surprised as Whooter to find himself suddenly
sliding down the snow-covered hill. He tumbled head over tail for a few moments
until he managed to right himself somewhat, continuing to slide down on his stomach.
He had just begun to enjoy the ride when he caught
sight of the base of the hill below, where the ground leveled out again. But
something about that ground looked odd; there were no trees for some distance,
and it seemed almost too perfectly flat.
He was barreling down the side of the hill so
quickly now, though, that he hardly had time to consider this puzzle before
he met it head on, hitting the base of the hill and sliding out, spinning in
circles, across the icy surface. Of course, he thought as he finally
slowed and then stopped, a lake! He'd seen frozen puddles before, but
never imagined the phenomenon occurring on such a large scale. He stared down
in fascination at the solid water beneath him as he stood-- only to have his
paws slide out from under him, leaving him to fall back down.
"Enzo, are you all right?"
He looked up to see Whooter just now arriving
at the base of the hill and the edge of the lake. The whoot landed in the snow
and cast a wary look toward the ice a few inches away.
Enzo laughed. "I'm fine, Whooter. Isn't this
"Well, yes, I suppose it is quite fascinating
from a scientific point of view, the wonders of nature and all...."
Whooter was heading into one of his infamous
speeches. Enzo rolled his eyes and tuned him out, concentrating instead on the
task of getting to his feet without falling down. With a few tries, he managed
it, though he still felt rather unsteady. He took a few steps forward, only
to have his paws slide out from under him again, but the momentum that those
few steps had given him propelled him forward as he fell, and he went sliding
across the ice again, laughing as he did so.
Soon enough he'd gotten the hang of moving about
on the ice, and he was propelling himself around the lake as fast as he could
go and twirling in circles and still, of course, falling every now and then,
but laughing all the way.
Whooter remained on the snowy shore, looking
decidedly nervous, though Enzo was having too much fun to pay him much notice.
"Enzo," the whoot called out after a few minutes, "don't you think we'd better
get going? We should try to get out of the forest before it gets dark at least."
"Oh, Whooter, lighten up!" Enzo called back as
he went skidding by. "We've got plenty of time to go home, but we'll probably
only be here once. Come on out here and have some fun for once!"
"I'm not quite sure it's safe," the whoot said.
Enzo laughed, pivoting and sliding back past
his friend again. "Don't be silly. Look at me-- I'm fine! Come on, it's fun!"
Whooter looked down at the ice again, then folded
his claws. "No, I really don't think-- that is to say, we really should be going,
Enzo slid past again, sticking out his tongue.
"Scaredy Whoot!" He laughed again and turned, careening off toward the far side
of the lake.
Whooter's feathers ruffled. "Fine," he muttered,
"if it will convince you to head home at last, then so be it." He stuck out
one claw toward the ice, as if he expected it to swallow him up or melt underneath
him the moment he touched it. No such thing happened of course. He rested his
claw firmly against the ice and then, tentatively, lifted the other from the
snow to join it-- only to have the first claw slide out from under him, sending
him falling backwards into the snow.
He lay there, feeling the snow seep into his
feathers and scowling up at the tree branches and the steel gray sky above.
That was the last time that he listened to--
His thoughts were interrupted by a sound that
made his heart drop-- the loud, quick crack of ice breaking and the splash of
it plunging into the icy water beneath. He sat up, staring out across the lake,
trying not to panic. "Enzo?" he called out. There was no answer. He stood up,
scanning the lake for any sign of the Gelert, but the black fur that should
have been easy to spot amidst all the white was no where in sight. "Enzo, this
is no time for joking! Where are you hiding?"
Suddenly, a dark head and paws shot up from the
middle of the lake with a splash. "Enzo!" Whooter took to the air instantly,
flying to the spot where he could now see the ice had broken through-- and apparently
with Enzo on top of it.
The Gelert's paws flailed wildly in the icy water,
as he gasped out, "Whooter!"
"Enzo," Whooter said, hovering over the hole
in the ice, "listen to me. Try to calm down. You have to be calm now, do you
hear?" His own heart raced even as he gave the command. "You can't spend all
of your energy panicking, all right? Now, try to get to the edge of the hole
and pull yourself out. Over here-- this side looks the least likely to give."
He landed on the side of the hole that he was indicating and waved his claws,
encouraging the Gelert to swim toward him. "Come on now, Enzo, you can do it."
Enzo panted as he tried to make his paws work
in the freezing water; each movement was like a sharp bite, an unwelcome interruption
to the numbness that was settling in. He paddled toward Whooter, trying as his
friend advised to stay calm. He reached the edge and struggled to reach his
paws up and over the lip of the ice.
His right paw finally thudded on top of the ice.
Panting, he tried to swing the other paw up beside it, only to have the first
paw slip back into the water. He made several more attempts, but he could not
get any grip on the slick ice. And with each failed try, he was left with less
and less energy for the next. As he rested his chin against the ice, tongue
lolling, the knowledge settled over him that even if he could get his claws
into the ice, he would not have the strength now to pull himself out. Whatever
chance he might have had at one point was lost. The realization should have
frightened him, but his mind, like his body, was only tired and numb and ready
to give in. His eyes drifted slowly closed and he felt his head begin to slip
down from its resting place and toward the water....
His eyes snapped back open, and he looked up
listlessly at Whooter.
"Enzo, pull yourself out of there this instant!"
the whoot commanded, the shaking of his voice betraying his authoritative tone.
Enzo tried to keep staring at the whoot, but
his eyelids were growing unbearably heavy. And his paws felt like balls of lead
as well, pulling him down into the water, telling him to let go and let them
carry him down. "I... can't, Whooter." His voice was little more than a whisper.
"What do you mean, you can't?" Whooter took to
the air, fluttering over the Gelert's head as if his own frantic motion would
somehow energize Enzo. "Of course you can, you're Enzo! You can do anything
if you put your mind to it, remember? Remember, Enzo-- escaping with Orla and
Zinneus, and, and setting all of the lab pets free, and... Enzo!"
The Gelert's eyes fell shut once again and he
began to slip slowly down into the water. Whooter grabbed onto one of Enzo's
long ears with his claws and flapped his tiny wings with all of his might, trying
to pull the Gelert upward. It was all he knew to do at this point, but of course
he didn't have the power to keep his friend from sinking. He found himself being
pulled downward even as he tried desperately to fly up.
"Come on, Enzo, come on," he cried. "I can't
do this on my own. You have to help me, boy. Don't...." His throat constricted
around this last thought, refusing to let him voice his fear and what seemed
inevitable now. Instead he stopped talking and focused all of his energy on
trying to keep Enzo's head out of the water, pushing away his usually-cherished
logic that told him it was hopeless.
He kept flapping his wings, kept pulling upward,
refusing to give up, even as below him Enzo's muzzle, and then his nose, then
his eyes and finally even his ears slipped beneath the water, and Whooter was
left flapping just above the surface, still clinging doggedly to the very end
of that ear.
And then, suddenly, there was a noise behind
him, a loud grunt and thumping and then sliding across the ice. He turned to
see a creature-- just a mass of red through his tear-blurred eyes-- come sliding
toward the hole. The presence of another soul in a world that had narrowed down
to him and Enzo so acutely in the last few minutes shocked him so that his tired
grip finally slipped and Enzo's ear went splashing down into the water with
the rest of him. Whooter gasped at his failure, but he was quickly swept aside
by a red paw moving past him and plunging into the water.
Whooter held his breath for what seemed like
hours but could only really have been a few terrible moments as the creature's
arm moved about in the water, searching, until a grunt signaled success. Enzo's
body was hauled up out of the water and onto the ice, soaking and near-frozen,
but coughing and alive. Whooter had only strength enough left to carry himself
toward his friend and fall down to the ice in relief.
Enzo opened his eyes slowly. Beside him, a small
fire threw a faint, fluctuating light on dark cave walls. As his eyes adjusted,
he focused on the only apparent noise besides the crackling of the twigs in
the fire. Before him, in the entrance of the cave, he made out the forms of
a large, shaggy-looking Scorchio and an unkempt, bowless Usul who were grunting
and chattering at each other as they fought over an acorn.
"You're awake." Enzo turned his head, which still
lay heavily on the cool cave floor, to see Whooter standing beside him and looking
The Gelert nodded faintly and turned back to
look at the pair of pets who were still arguing incomprehensibly a few yards
away. "What happened? Who are they?"
"Wild Neopets," Whooter spoke softly. "I've read
about them before. They live deep in the forest without any owners. I don't
think they even know what owners are, though the books say their ancestors had
them, once upon a time, before they came to live alone out here for whatever
reason." He hopped forward another foot and pointed at the Usul. "I believe
you have her to thank for waking you," he said, and then pointed at the other
Neopet. "And him to thank for saving you from drowning in that lake."
"The lake," Enzo said as the memory came flooding
back. Then he chuckled a little. "Hey, I bet that water was ten times colder
than when Dad saved Mom from those pet smugglers, huh?"
"Enzo," Whooter chided, shaking his head at the
young Gelert. Then his tone changed abruptly. "Enzo... I-- I'm sorry... that
I couldn't do anything to help you."
"Aw Whooter, come on. You did everything you
could. And hey, it turned out all right, didn't it?"
Whooter sighed and patted Enzo's head fondly.
"Yes, I suppose it did."
Enzo's eyes moved about the small cave as he
shivered and scooted closer to the fire. "Where are we?"
"I believe it's a cave," Whooter replied. When
Enzo glared at him, he cleared his throat and pointed at the Scorchio again.
"I believe it's his cave to be more exact."
Enzo looked back at the Scorchio, who was still
stubbornly playing tug-of-war with the irate Usul over the acorn. "Are we sure
he didn't save me to be breakfast?"
"The books all say they're essentially harmless,"
Whooter replied. He turned to Enzo and noticed that despite the persistent noise
of grunting and chattering, the young Gelert's eyelids were beginning to droop
again. "Get some rest, Enzo. It'll be all right."
Enzo needed no further instruction. His eyes
fell closed and within seconds he was snoring lightly again. Whooter snuggled
up against his dark, furry neck and kept watch throughout the night-- just in
case the books were wrong.
When Enzo next awoke, he looked around, slowly
regaining his bearings, and noticed the wild Scorchio sitting in a corner and
gnawing fruitlessly at the much-disputed acorn. The Gelert stood to his feet,
swaying a little at first and groaning as his aching muscles protested the sudden
movement. Then he approached the Scorchio cautiously, ducking his head a little
and smiling to show his friendly intentions. The Scorchio looked up at him curiously.
"Uh, I-- I just wanted to say thanks," Enzo said. "Thanks for saving my life."
The Scorchio stood up and sniffed a few times,
and then uttered a few grunts.
"Uh, Whooter," Enzo said, looking down at the
Whoot who stood beside him, "what's he saying?"
"You think I can understand that barbaric grunting?"
Whooter asked testily, folding his arms. "Just what are you trying to imply?"
Enzo just sighed and rolled his eyes. Finally, Whooter sighed too and hopped
up to face the Scorchio. "You there-- what is your name, sir?"
The Scorchio looked down at him and scratched
his shaggy red head in confusion. "Ungh?"
"Your name, your name-- what are you called?"
Whooter said impatiently, but the Scorchio showed no sign of understanding.
Finally, the whoot fluttered up onto the top of Enzo's head and pointed down
at the Gelert. "Enzo. En-zo," he said slowly. Then he pointed at himself.
"Whoo-ter." At last he pointed toward the Scorchio. "And you?"
A smile of understanding dawned on the Scorchio's
face and he pointed proudly at himself and uttered the syllables: "Scorch-ee-oh."
"Scorchio. Your name is Scorchio?" The Scorchio
nodded enthusiastically at the skeptical Whoot. Whooter just sighed. "Well,
that should be easy enough to remember. Then I suppose that would be Usul?"
he asked, pointing over at the untidy Usul from earlier, who was creeping back
into the cave, holding a stick out toward the fire.
The Scorchio growled and lunged at the Usul,
who leapt back quickly with her stick, which now had a tiny flame attached to
the end of it. The little Usul chattered angrily at the Scorchio as he backed
her against the cave wall and grabbed for the stick, which she swung away from
his reach each time.
Enzo darted between the two warring pets. "Hey,
hey!" The Scorchio backed up a foot or two reluctantly, grunting and pointing
angrily at the burning end of the stick. "You can share!" Enzo exclaimed. He
pointed back at the Scorchio's fire. "Look, you don't have any less than you
did before." Before the Gelert could reason with either of them any more, the
Usul took the opportunity to dart out of the cave, waving her stick triumphantly
and throwing a few taunting chatters back at the Scorchio, who went crossly
back to chewing on the impenetrable acorn.
Enzo stayed at the small cave's entrance, gazing
out after the Usul in amazement. Scorchio's cave, he saw, was just one of many
that dotted the walls of a huge, dark cavern. By the lights of the small fires
that lit some of the caves, he could make out wild Neopets of all shapes and
sizes engaged in similar fights over food or warmth or-- it seemed-- just about
anything they could find to fight about. They all lived together within the
walls of this cavern it seemed, but it was obvious that in many ways, they each
lived quite alone.
Meanwhile, Whooter had approached Scorchio again.
"Right, now, I think this is as good a time as any to begin teaching you some
proper Neopian." The Whoot pointed at the fire. "Fire." The Scorchio just looked
at him and grunted, turning back to his acorn. "No, not 'grunt.' Fire."
"Come on, Whooter," Enzo said, turning away from
the cave entrance and toward his friend. "You're not gonna try to civilize 'im,
are you? This guy's wild and free; I bet he has all sorts of adventures, and--"
"Enzo, if we're going to spend the winter here,
I'm going to have to 'civilize' him at least a bit for the sake of communication.
Will that be all right with you?"
"Spend the winter here?"
"You're still weak from your ordeal," the Whoot
said pragmatically, tapping lightly on one of the Gelert's front legs so that
Enzo winced slightly at the reminder of his sore muscles. "And the weather's
only going to get worse according to my calculations. I don't see much choice
but to spend a winter with the wild pets."
"I suppose you're right," Enzo replied, not quite
managing to hide his excitement at the prospect.
To be continued...