Fearsome: A Grarrl's Story - Part Three
Cruncher looked about him in awe. The Battledome was far larger than any building he had yet seen in his short life. An open-air amphitheatre-like affair it was, with high silver walls and enormous gateways. Inside were even more wonders to be seen. Neopets of every shape, size and colour grappled with each other in large, fenced off rings thronged with excited onlookers while their owners cheered them on with much enthusiasm. Shouts and roars rippled and resounded through the air like electric charges. The very atmosphere seemed charged with adrenaline.
Hekonn’s hand slapped him on the back. “Come on, Cruncher, they’re calling us!” he whooped excitedly. “Wouldn’t want to miss your first match, now would you?”
It had now been several weeks since that first trip to Mystery Island, the first trip of many. They had started out slowly, only going once every few days or so, but now this had been stepped up. Every other day, Cruncher was taken to the Training School and put through his grueling paces. The funny thing was, he could see no other pet in his class who was there every other day. Some familiar faces had appeared weekly or fortnightly, and many he had never seen return. Even Ryshu-Senior and the Techo Master seemed to look at him sympathetically as he leaned against the wall, his red scaled sides heaving with exertion, after every session was over. But, Cruncher had decided, if Hekonn didn’t see a problem with it, then he must be able to do it.
And so the days went by and the Grarrl grew stronger, and his owner heaped exclamations of praise upon him at his progress. His size had increased too, as of his kind, and he was now as tall as Hekonn himself. Yet still there was a nagging seed of doubt in Cruncher’s mind, a faint whisper of discontent. But he told himself this was nonsense. He had an owner who cared about him and a purpose to fulfill... surely he had everything a pet could want.
Now, gazing at the rings of grappling pets, he felt the uncertainty grow once more.
“Go on, Cruncher!” Hekonn pushed his reluctant Grarrl up the steps, through the ropes and into the floor of the ring.
“Your Challenger, Tadde0_36, Has Arrived!” boomed a voice over a loudspeaker, and Cruncher started at the sudden thunderous noise.
“That’s him,” whispered Hekonn. A tall, gangly beanpole of a Lupe was padding into the ring, on the opposite side. He was a fairly young one, not much older than Cruncher himself, and he looked very nervous, and inexperienced. The Grarrl stiffened. Was he expected to fight this Lupe?
“Knock ‘im dead, boy! Do me proud!”
A bell rang shrilly from somewhere above, and the Lupe, taking a last look behind him, seemed to muster up all of his courage and charged wildly forward with his jaws wide and fangs bared.
Cruncher, taken aback, almost reacted too slowly, and as he dodged the Lupe’s teeth grazed his shoulder as he leapt past. The crowd, watching, began to shout and cheer, a ragged, harsh sound.
Through all the sudden hubbub Cruncher heard Hekonn’s voice among the others, crying, “Get ‘im, Cruncher! Get ‘im, boy!” The Grarrl whirled around, trying to catch sight of the Lupe. The Lupe skidded to a stop at the other side of the arena and charged at him again, seeming to gather confidence from the near miss of the first strike.
This time the Grarrl was ready, throwing up his defences as the Lupe leapt, his face twisted into a snarl that turned into a whimper of surprise as he met with the unyielding wall of red scales and was flung backwards. The crowd roared.
The Lupe had picked himself up and was circling the Grarrl, his yellow eyes narrowed. This time he would be crafty. Cruncher followed his every move, calling upon everything that he had been taught.
Suddenly the Lupe lunged. Cruncher dodged quickly but it seemed his opponent had only been feinting, drawing his eye away from the green frost cannon behind him, which he fired. A lump of green snow hit the Grarrl squarely between the eyes.
It burned. Cruncher had never felt anything so cold, so wet, so horrible to the touch, so freezing cold that it burned him. Howling with pain, he charged forward at his opponent.
The Lupe had no time to react before the Grarrl’s head caught him in the ribs. Away he went, rolling over and over, yelping in shocked fright, until he came to rest, his sides heaving with desperate horror.
Cruncher lumbered up to him. The Lupe gazed up in terror at the towering red shape and shining teeth. He closed his eyes, his ears folding back.
“Finish ‘im, Cruncher!” Hekonn had leaped up and was waving a fist in the air. “He’s all yours now!”
Cruncher gazed down at the cringing Lupe, thinking, once more, that surely he was no battler. He had seemed so uptight, so nervous and afraid, all the way through. He raised his head once again; saw the young teenage human male sitting beside Hekonn. He was shivering as if with cold, his mouth open slightly, his eyes shining with the same shocked, helpless fright of the Lupe on the ground. By that, Cruncher knew. This was his Lupe. And his whole expression was the expression of one who is powerless to interfere, but straining desperately at his self-imposed chains.
“Finish ‘im, Cruncher!” Hekonn yelled again. A small whine broke from the Lupe.
Cruncher bent his head down to the Lupe, who shuddered at the nearness of the Grarrl’s teeth. Then Cruncher spoke.
“Get up,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Not anymore.”
The Lupe continued to shudder, so the Grarrl nudged him with his nose. “I tell you I’m not going to hurt you. Get up.”
The Lupe’s ears came unfolded as he realised what the Grarrl was saying. Slowly he turned his head around, and Cruncher saw the fear in his eyes begin to turn to questioning. “You... won’t hurt me?”
“No. Get up.”
“But we’re in a... a Dome fight. You have to beat me.”
“Do you want me to?”
“Well, no... I don’t even particularly want to be here... but...”
“Then get up.”
Slowly, carefully, the Lupe got to his feet. The crowd stopped its noise and an astonished silence draped itself over the arena. Cruncher, ignoring them, nudged the Lupe again. “Are you badly hurt? I am sorry about that...”
“Nothing the Healing Springs won’t put right.” The Lupe shook himself, wincing slightly, and looked up at him again. “Th-thank you.”
His yellow tail flicked slightly in the ghost of a wag. “But... but why...?”
The crowd chose that moment to get over its astonishment. There were angry shouts and jeers. Finally Hekonn himself stood up again.
“C-Cruncher... What are you doing, boy? You were going to be my fighting Grarrl, my Battledome champ... my ferocious destroyer... Why, boy? Why won’t you finish it? You were doing so well...”
His voice trailed off hopelessly. He sounded more bewildered and desolate than Cruncher had ever heard anyone sound. But he lifted his voice in response.
“I don’t want to fight.”
“Tad! Oh Tad!” The Lupe’s human had jumped up, dashed into the arena and was pelting towards his pet. He reached his Lupe and hugged him around the neck tightly.
“Oh Tad, I’m so sorry, boy... I should have listened to you when you told me you didn’t want to battle... I won’t make you do it again, I promise... Oh Tad, Tad, I’m so glad you’re alright..”
He went on and on in this vein, while the Lupe’s tail beat faster upon the ground, and his tongue swiped the boy’s cheek.
The Grarrl couldn’t help but smile at them, and then he turned around and looked at his own owner. Hekonn was standing, his face a mask of dejected disappointment. For the first time Cruncher felt his heart squeeze, painfully.
Hekonn turned, without a word, and walked away. Cruncher followed him without being bidden, but it was as if he no longer existed. His owner never gave any indication that he saw him following, and even when they got back to the small Neohome he simply sat in his old armchair and stared at nothing.
Cruncher’s insides were chilled to the very marrow. It hurt almost as much as the frost had when it struck him and burned him. Confused, and wounded in a way that had nothing to do with the fight, he sat on the worn rug, his thoughts in a muddle. Hekonn’s last words rang in his ears.
“...You were going to be my fearsome fighting Grarrl, my Battledome champ... my ferocious destroyer... Why, boy? Why won’t you finish it? You were doing so well...”
Miserably, the Grarrl turned the words over and over in his head, trying to come to terms with a reason for this, for everything. Hekonn loved him, had truly cared for him... surely there was an explanation...
But deep inside him he knew it was true. Hekonn had only wanted him because of what he had thought he was. A fearsome fighting Grarrl.
“I don’t want an ugly, mean, stupid Grarrl! I wanted a cute little Shoyru that I could dress up and play with! I wanna Shoyru I don’t wanna Grarrl! I wanna Shoyru I don’t wanna Grarrl! I wanna Shoyru I don’t wanna Grarrl!...”
Cruncher’s head sank limply onto his thin chest. He gazed once more at the picture on Hekonn’s wall, as if seeing it for the first time; an enormous blue Grarrl rearing up, face twisted into a snarl, foam dripping from the gaping jaws. Beneath the creature’s claws, rocks shattered like glass and the ground ripped like paper. He glanced at the tattered comic book that he had not bothered to take a closer look at before. The picture on the cover was the same, a red Grarrl plowing deep furrows into the earth, smashing whole buildings this time under his roaring malice. The text above the picture read The Grarrl Who Crushed Tyrannia.
Cruncher heaved a deep, regretful sigh. He understood, now.
When, the next morning, he ended up back in a cage at the brick-built building, with the thin yellow creature in the white coat standing over him and shaking his head, the Grarrl was hardly surprised. But it didn’t do anything to ease the pain inside him.
A few weeks went by before he heard the words.
“We’ll take this one.” It was a flat monotone, and the Grarrl hadn’t thought it meant for him until he heard the rattling of the lock and saw the pink Uni fiddling with it. The cage door sprang open and Cruncher stepped cautiously outside. He had continued growing all the time he’d been in the Pound, and he now towered over the heads of the human standing before him, though he was still an adolescent in age.
He was a tall, thin, grim-looking man with a thin unsmiling mouth and small beady eyes that looked up at the Grarrl before him. He seemed unimpressed, but nevertheless he grunted and pressed a handful of Neopoints into the Uni’s hoof before reaching up a hand and looping something around Cruncher’s neck before he knew what was happening. Equally quickly, another length of coarse rope was looped around the Grarrl’s jaws and tied firmly.
“There’ll be no biting out of you, my boy.”
It was rough and scratchy; most uncomfortable. Moreover, he couldn’t seem to get his jaws open. Cruncher clawed at the ropes with some irritation and confusion, only to have the man give the rope around his neck a sharp jerk that pulled it taut. The Grarrl staggered forward to regain his balance.
The Uni looked like she wanted to protest, but she kept silent as the man pulled on the rope again and started forward. As they passed her, Cruncher thought he saw in her eyes the same expression of helplessness that he had seen on the face of the Lupe’s owner.
Some miles of dusty road later, they reached a large Neohome with a tall, iron barred gate and a wall around it. Cruncher was led up to a ramshackle shed to one side of the imposing fortress of a building, and the end of the rope tied to a stout post.
“Now, you just stay there,” the man growled at him. He set off in the direction of the front door.
Cruncher, seeing no alternative, plopped down on the thin grass to observe his surroundings. The house was immense, of rough grey stone, and to the Grarrl’s eyes it looked cold and unwelcoming. The shed, quite near him, was crudely made of rusted sheets of corrugated metal and looked on the verge of collapse, but it was tall and wide enough to house a full-grown Grarrl, which he wasn’t quite yet. The gardens stretched around him, swathes of bright green with trees growing tall and sturdy here and there. Cruncher gazed at them in awe. He had never seen such a wide expanse of greenery in Neopia Central before. It seemed the only sparse patch was the area where he sat. There were bare sandy spots here and there too, as if worn out by the feet of some creature over a period of time.
He was still gazing at the gardens when the man returned. Trailing behind him was a little group of people, all whispering and pointing as they scrutinised him. For the first time Cruncher was conscious of his size. He shifted uncomfortably.
One of the people, a lady in a silk dress with a little baby Uni by her side, came forward to stand by the man. “What do you make of him, Mr. Kartson?”
The man chewed his lip thoughtfully. “He’s a good Grarrl. Was the only one I could find in the Pound that’d suit, of his age and size. Real strong too. Think he’ll do a fine job.”
At the lady’s nod of approval, he strode up to the Grarrl and with several deft movements of his hands untied the cords that bound his jaws shut. Mr. Kartson jumped back again quickly. Cruncher, feeling the ropes come loose and fall away, stretched his jaws to their widest in a mock-yawn of relief. The onlookers let out a collective gasp at the sight of his rows of teeth.
“See?” Mr. Kartson’s voice. “Young and strong and healthy, this one.” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he called out.
“You, Grarrl!” Cruncher, surprised by the sudden address, started, closed his mouth and turned his head towards the voice.
“You will stay here during the daytime, sheltering in your dwelling if necessary.” He waved a hand at the shed. “By night, however, regardless of weather, you will be let off your rope to patrol the grounds. If any intruders should try to enter-” he snapped his fingers, “-you will dispatch them immediately.
“And that mess of numbers and letters on your adoption papers is hardly a fitting name for a watch-Grarrl. Henceforth, to us, you shall be known as Redfangs.”
With that he turned on his heel and strode off into the distance, the other people following. The Grarrl formerly known as Cruncher could hear their talk receding into the distance.
“Ugh, the size of those teeth! What a terrible creature!”
“He’ll be a good watch-Grarrl, though. No one would dare come in here with that monster around...”
“Do those beasts understand Neopian speech, Kartson? I would have thought you’d need to speak Tyrannian to him..”
As they rounded the corner of the house, the little Uni turned her head to glance at him for an instant, before she trotted away after the others.
To be continued...