What Am I?: Part Six
Kelenria felt the blood draining from her face. “You didn’t,” she choked, her mind reeling dizzily. Suddenly she felt sick, and her stomach churned with anger. “You idiot, you had no right! You had no right to go in there and-”
“Cool down, Kel,” Texra interrupted, a wall going up behind her eyes and her voice taking on a disdainful note of uncaring condescension that threatened to drive the horrified Xweetok to insanity. “It’s just some freak-o experiment-”
“NO, HE’S NOT!” Kelenria shrieked, suddenly leaping out of Jack’s arms and bowling her sister to the ground. “He’s my friend, unlike SOME snobby jerks!”
“Kel,” Jack began quietly, and Kelenria rounded on him, her voice breaking and tears rising in her eyes as words came spilling out.
“Ever since she started hanging out with that other group she’s been snobby and condescending and rude and now this and I CAN’T TAKE HER ANYMORE! She isn’t the sister I used to have, she’s some jerk from who-knows-where that I don’t even know! Kitron’s ten times nicer than she is, and she had no right to try to get him in trouble.” Prying her claws out of Texra’s arm and heaving a shuddery sigh, she concluded, “I’m going to go find Kitron and make sure he’s all right.”
* * * * *
“Kitron? Oh, Kitron, no!” Shining tears streaked down her cheeks like glimmering silver fish trying to find their way down the side of a desolate brown riverbank as Kelenria‘s shrieks clawed their way upward through the air in a desperate bid to leave the horror that tore at their maker and find refuge in the pure morning sky. “KITRON!”
The door of the treehouse had been torn right off its hinges, and the ground outside had been shredded in the wild throes of violent conflict. Racing up the ladder, which was barely managing to stand erect now that it had been all but turned into kindling, Kelenria was startled to see that the inside of the treehouse was almost completely intact.
The flow of tears accelerated. Kitron must have realized how special this place was to her, and taken the battle outside. Thinking of her, despite his own peril. Kelenria felt an avalanche of sobs rising in her throat, and when she found her voice it was no more than a whimpering breath. “You didn’t deserve whatever they did to you,” she whispered. “It wasn’t your fault... Oh, if only I’d just told Jack about you- he’d have explained everything to them...” With that, she dissolved into a broken torrent of sobs.
“Yes, I would have,” a soft voice behind her said, startling Kelenria and causing one of her sobs to mutate into a hiccup. Turning around, she found Jack standing behind her, his eyes soft but bright with pity and pain. “Kel, it may not be too late,” he said quietly. “They’ll be harder to persuade, now that he’s put up a fight, but I’ll try to explain the situation-”
“Would you?!” Kelenria cried, hope springing into her heart and her heart leaping into her throat.
Jack smiled warmly, reaching down to gather Kelenria into his arms. “Of course I would. A friend of yours is a friend of mine.”
“Oh, thank you!” Kelenria buried her face into his chest, then abruptly relapsed into weeping. “But what if they’ve hurt him?” she choked. “What if he thinks I was the one who told them about him? Just last night we’d been talking about his scar and how he got it, and how it marks him as one of Sloth’s- what if he thinks I was tricking him when I said the scar didn’t matter and I was his friend?”
“Then you’ll have to convince him otherwise,” Jack said softly. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Tell me he’s gonna be all right.”
Jack shifted her so that he could meet her gaze, and looked deeply into her eyes. “If I have anything to say about it, he will be.”
* * * * *
“Ah, Kelenria. Good to see you. I’d been wondering when you’d arrive.” Judge Hog’s deep voice was businesslike and matter-of-fact until he saw the intense distress etched into Kelenria’s face. “Young lady? Is something wrong?”
“Where is he?” Kelenria asked, her voice low, broken and intense as she cut straight to the chase, fixing the massive Moehog as she spoke with a fiery, penetrating stare that completely transformed her usually shy face.
Taken aback, Judge Hog blinked and said, “He? You mean the Zafara we apprehended in your yard this morning?”
“Yes! He isn’t supposed to be in here!”
Visibly confused but clearly attempting to conceal it, Judge Hog replied, “Young lady, I assure you, we have the right Neopet. We needed five full doses of triple-strength tranquilizer to get him in here.”
Instead of calming the young Xweetok, this only made her more frantic. “Tell me you didn’t hurt him!”
Judge Hog was getting more and more bewildered. “Er- well- I suppose the darts would have stung him a little, but-”
“WHERE IS HE?!”
Mercifully deciding to rescue the confused Defender, Jack put a hand on Kelenria’s shoulder and explained, “The Zafara’s name is Kitron. Kelenria befriended him in the old Sloth facility where she found him, and since she was afraid that people would start making assumptions upon seeing him she hid him in her treehouse. Unfortunately, my other girl, Texra, found him and overreacted.”
Judge Hog’s face was taking on a rather worrying expression of dismay. “Follow me,” he said quietly, and led the Xweetok and her owner through several halls until they came to a room with large array of screens all but covering one wall. “This is our security room,” Judge Hog explained. “We use hidden cameras to keep an eye on the whole building.” Pointing to one of the screens, he added quietly, “This is the room where we put the Zafara.”
Kelenria felt a fresh torrent of tears rising in her eyes. Kitron was chained to the wall, his teeth bared and his eyes squeezed shut as he strained furiously against the restraints. His breath rushed in and out of his massive chest in great, ragged gasps, and Kelenria’s heart twisted at the sight. “Why did you chain him up like that?”
“We had no choice. The walls of the cell aren’t strong enough to keep him from breaking out. Those chains are made of Maractite, which is about the only thing that will hold him. The only alternative was to keep him constantly sedated.”
Kelenria shuddered at the thought; then, turning her large, pleading eyes upward to meet the Moehog’s regretful gaze, she begged, “Please, let me go see him.”
Judge Hog’s eyes flickered with alarm. “Kelenria, he’s dangerous.”
“He isn’t dangerous to me! I spent hours in the treehouse with him, and he didn’t hurt me once. He’s only dangerous to people who are dangerous to him. Besides, he’s chained to the wall.”
Judge Hog hesitated, then turned to Jack. “It’s your call.”
Jack fidgeted, clearly uncertain. Finally he heaved a sigh and said, “Go ahead. But be careful.”
Kelenria nodded, and Judge Hog led her to the door to Kitron’s cell.
* * * * *
“You will release me and return me to my mentor NOW!”
Kitron’s roar shook the confines of the cell as the door began to open, and Kelenria cowered back for a moment before slowly and tentatively edging her way into the room. “Kitron?” she said quietly, her whispering voice tinged with fear despite her best efforts. “It’s me, Kelenria.”
Instantly the massive Zafara relaxed, staring at her with a flicker of surprise glinting through an emotionless mask. “Kelenria of Neopia,” he greeted her; then a frown of worry crossed his face. “Have you been apprehended as well?”
Kelenria shook her head. “No- I came to visit you.”
Kitron’s ebony shoulders sagged. “Your function as my mentor is no longer needed,” he said quietly. “My captivity has rendered the discovery of my function irrelevant.”
“Jack and I are going to try to convince them to let you go,” Kelenria said, trying to reassure him even while her eyes filled with tears. The length of Kitron’s chains gave him a few feet of leeway so that he could stand instead of dangling, but his wrists had been rubbed raw as he strained against the unforgiving metal, sending trickles of blood running through his fur. He looked helpless and alone, standing forlornly before her in the dimness of the cell.
Her voice breaking under an onslaught of pity and pain, Kelenria said quietly, “Maybe you don’t need a mentor, but... do you still need a friend?”
Kitron blinked, seeming surprised by her words. “Is it not dangerous for you to be friends with a captured fugitive?”
Smiling weakly through her tears, Kelenria answered softly, “I’d be your friend even if it was dangerous.” Padding up to him, she got up on her hindlegs and wrapped her forelegs around him, wishing as she did that she could reach up past his thighs. She heard a swift intake of breath behind her as Judge Hog tensed in his position halfway through the door, but she didn’t care. Let them think what they would; Kitron wouldn’t hurt her.
After a moment she let go of Kitron; and to her surprise the Zafara, stepping back to allow the chains that bound him to go slack, held out his arms in tentative invitation. Kelenria sprang into them, and Kitron held her close, unashamedly reassuring himself with the small fuzzy bundle pressed against his chest.
After a long embrace, the two of them slipped apart. “I have to go,” Kelenria said quietly, “But I’m going to find a way to get you out.”
Kitron still looked uncertain. “What will happen to me after that?”
“I don’t know. Whatever it is, I’ll try to be there to help you with it.”
To be continued...