Monster Hunting: Part One
In all his wildest dreams Jedd never thought he'd end up perched on a creaky branch jutting out of a cliff face accompanied by a chipper Starry Blumaroo deep in the heart of the Haunted Woods. And he had had some pretty wild dreams, most of them scary and none of them ending well. The droopy grey Acara huddled deeper into his scarf, a colourful woolen knit with lime green and sky blue stripes. He sighed, a deep, heavy, life-is-misery sort of sigh.
Four Underscore Altador Underscore J.D.D. Underscore Six Underscore Six, or, as he preferred to be called: Jedd, was not the sort of Grey Neopet who went around breaking stereotypes by being cheerful all the time and hosting happiness parties. No, he was exactly what you might imagine when you think of a Grey pet, complete with droopy fur, mournful eyes and a pessimistic outlook on life.
A little to the right of Jedd's branch and some way further down the cliff – who knew there such steep, sheer cliffs in the Haunted Woods anyway? – was a smallish ledge that jutted out and on it sat a Starry Blumaroo. He had not stopped talking since Jedd had fallen suddenly from above and landed on the tree branch. Had it not been for Rainne, his Cirrus, he likely would not have survived the fall but she had grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and slowed his descent.
"...I am originally from Neovia, you know," said the Blumaroo, continuing his long introductory tirade. Jedd blinked in disbelief but was too polite to bring up any objections. The Brightly coloured Starry Blumaroo could not have looked any further from a Neovian if he had tried. He wore a blue beret perched jauntily on his head, round spectacles on his remarkably large Blumaroo nose, and was dressed in rather gentlemanly, if rumpled attire. "For some reason the Neovian citizens seemed to think I stood out like a sore thumb and treated me like a foreigner! Can you imagine?"
Jedd made a 'hum' sound, a rather nondescript sort of sound that could have meant anything from 'how shocking!' to 'you, my friend, are one codestone short of a training session'.
"Well, my ancestry is Neovian anyhow, I visited often as a child but I've spent most of my life on Roo Island," added the Blumaroo.
"Oh," said Jedd, not knowing what else to say. "Well, Mr... uh."
"Oh dear!" exclaimed the Blumaroo, jumping to his feet and sending jolts of vertigo down Jedd's spine as he got visions of the Neopet tumbling down fathomless depths to an untimely demise. He crouched lower down on his branch and scooted further back to the cliff walls as though he could squish himself inside it to safety if only he shivered hard enough. "My manners! You must excuse me; sitting on this ledge for two days has quite flustered the nerves. My name," he said with a flourish, "is Tiraffo. I am an artist. What's your name, my dear fellow and what brings you here to this dreary place?"
Rainne chirruped and burrowed deeper into Jedd's scarf. "My name is Four Und—well, it's Jedd. My name is Jedd. And this is Rainne, my Cirrus. Please sit down." He normally would have gone a bit about his name and how dreadful it was, but Tiraffo was really making him terribly nervous, standing like that. Tiraffo held out his hand for him to shake. Jedd realized shaking the Blumaroo's hand would involve him leaning over the deathly black chasm that lay between his branch and Tiraffo's ledge. "No, really. Please sit down. I don't want you to fall."
"Oh, I suppose I'd better do that," amended Tiraffo amiably. "We'll shake hands once we're in a safer spot, eh?" He sat down, and put his arm around his legs, resting his chin on his knees.
"I don't suppose that'll ever happen," said Jedd glumly. "We'll probably be trapped here for the rest of our lives. Not that our lives will be much longer if we stay here. So that's something."
Tiraffo was staring at Jedd, looking appalled at his negativity. "Now, now, just because we're trapped in the Haunted Woods with no foreseeable way out does not mean we should give in to despair! Why, during my few days here I painted some wonderful portraits capturing the dark gloominess of the Haunted Woods! That would never have happened if I hadn't fell, now would it?"
He dug through some papers piled in a small bag and held them up for Jedd to see. They were, more or less, covered entirely in black paint, with splotches of dark blue. Jedd blinked and nodded, hoping the strange Blumaroo would not ask for him to comment on the 'pictures'.
He was saved by the sound of a Werelupe howling, from far away. He yelped in surprise and nearly lost his balance on the branch, but Rainne pushed him back into place. It was a familiar sound; the Werelupe that had chased him off the cliff had sounded just like that. Luckily it seemed to be coming from far away.
"Do be careful, that's a good fellow," said Tiraffo. "I'd invite you to sit on my ledge here but as you can see, it's far too small."
"I have to get out of here!" moaned Jedd. "There's simply no time!" He hugged his tree branch and squeezed his eyes shut miserably.
"No time for what?"
"What I came here for!"
"It's very important! There's a wounded creature here that needs my help! It's being hunted down as some sort of rare monster by bounty hunters! It's simply awful and now I'm stuck here while it needs help!" Rainne, well-attuned to Jedd's emotions, burst into tears and his scarf was soon soaked with salty Cirrus raindrops. Jedd felt a few tears spring to his own eyes. He sniffed and wiped at the corners of his eyes with his long colourful scarf.
"Oh dear," said Tiraffo, looking distressed. "Well now that is certainly something to get dismayed about. Well, let me see. Can't your little Cirrus get us help? She can fly can't she?"
"She's afraid of heights!" wailed Jedd and Rainne nodded emphatically. How a cloud Petpet who spent its life airborne could be afraid of heights was beyond him but those were the facts.
"Afraid of what now?"
"Heights! Don't ask me why! It's the only thing she fears more than doors."
"Well, she's either afraid of doors or being indoors, I've never been quite clear as to which. Whatever the matter is, she's never been inside a house in her life!" Jedd realized that Tiraffo was now looking at him in a manner similar to how he'd been looking at Tiraffo only moments earlier, which is to say: as though he were a bit mad.
"Well, if I may? Rainne, my dear, your owner and I are in quite a pickle as you can see. And unfortunately we do not have the gift of flight as you do," Tiraffo spoke in calm, persuasive tones. Raiined peeped out of Jedd's scarf, sniffling but listening. "So could you find it in yourself to be very brave and try to find some help for us? Please?"
Rainne was quivering. She floated out of Jedd's scarf and neared the edge of the tree branch. She peered over the branch and flinched, shrinking and pulling back.
"If anyone can save us, it's you, Rainne," said Jedd in a small voice. Those words had a great effect on little Rainne. Her eyes brightened and she puffed up to nearly twice her size. She looked back at Jedd and chirruped then sped off over the tree branch, plummeting and squealing with fear for a few seconds, then remembering that she was a floating cloud and popping back up with a smile.
Jedd, who had gone a rather sickly shade of pale grey, smiled weakly back. And Rainne was off.
"We'll probably never see her again," he whispered. He slumped with dismay, face sinking into his oversized scarf. "That Werelupe will eat her and find its way back to us for sure. And that's only if we're lucky. Oh what have I don---"
"Soooo," interrupted Tiraffo. "That injured creature you were talking about. What else do you know about it? Sounds like quite the adventure! You must be very brave."
"Brave? Me? Goodness no!" exclaimed Jedd, looking appalled at the very idea. "I'm just here to help a creature in need, nothing to do with bravery. No one else was going to do it. I'm sure there are much more qualified pets than me for the task. But I suppose I'm better than nothing." He sighed. "I had hoped to be back home before the Day of Giving. I guess that was silly."
"Nonsense. Hope is never silly. With me by your side, we'll get there and back in no time at all!" said Tiraffo. "You'll be feasting with your friends on the Day of Giving, mark my words."
Jedd sighed for what must have been the hundredth time that day. He was a champion sigher, even for a Grey pet. "Next year's Day of Giving, no doubt," he said, looking gloomy. "By then of course the shelter will have been shut down and abandoned and everyone will be gone, because I wasn't there since I was out chasing some silly rumor instead of doing the sensible thing." He slumped in the slumpiest way possible for an Acara to slump with deep, slumpy despair.
"Now, now," chided Tiraffo, "doing the heroic thing is always the sensible thing! Why, if more people in the world did heroic things instead of sensible ones, think of what a world it'd be!"
"A scary, risky sort of place, I'd imagine," said Jedd, shaking his head.
Just then, Rainne appeared, chirping and humming with excitement, buzzing around Jedd's head, her fear of heights for the moment forgotten.
Tiraffo nearly jumped to his feet again but contained himself, settling instead on quivering with excitement. "What is it!? Did she find something?"
Rainne chattered on for a bit as Jedd studied her, head tilted slightly to the side. Tiraffo watched them both expectantly.
"I think," said Jedd carefully, "That she wants us to jump."
"Oh dear," said Tiraffo, deflating.
"I guess we're not that high up, only the darkness and foliage is making it hard for us to see. Or maybe she's saying that there's no hope and we might as well jump to our doom. It's hard to tell."
Jedd looked as though he wanted more than anything else in the world to tell Rainne that they were most certainly not going to jump but he seemed unable to. He opened him mouth, closed it, opened it again then swallowed and adjusted his scarf.
Tiraffo interrupted the awkward pause. "I suppose it's better than sitting around here for another who knows how many days." He brightened. "I have faith in your little cloud. I'll come!" He began packing his things and slung his backpack on his back. "Let's go, fellows!"
Jedd glanced at Tiraffo then at Rainne. Then, sitting up a bit straighter and clearing his throat he said, "Rainne, if you're sure... take me down."
Jedd carefully eased off the branch with the little Cirrus's help until he was hanging from the branch by his paws. Then, supported by Rainne, he squeezed his eyes shut and let go. Rainne slowed his fall as he tumbled through the brittle branches, getting scratched along the way. Just when he was about to panic that Rainne had misjudged the distance--she was only so strong after all and he could feel her grip weakening--he landed in a pile of dead leaves, Rainne flopping on top of him with a gentle 'puff' sound.
"I say, are you two all right?" came Tiraffo's voice from above.
"I--I'm not entirely sure," replied Jedd as he sat up, head spinning, the forest wavering about him. Rainne offered him a bright smile. Jedd smiled back, and then fell flat on his back with an "Oomph!"
"Go get Tiraffo, won't you Rainne?" he asked, his voice faint. Rainne nodded and disappeared with a whoosh.
"Well well, that wasn't so bad, now was it!" exclaimed Tiraffo, brushing leaves off of his shirt and adjusting his cap. He held out a hand to Jedd and helped him up.
"Not bad at all. It was horrifying," said Jedd, still breathless from the fall. He adjusted his scarf and shook dead leaves out of his fur.
Tiraffo laughed. "You have quite the sense of humor there, Jedd my lad! Quite unbelievable, I sat there for two days, couldn't see the ground from where I was sitting! Well now. I do believe we're both very lost. Do you know how to light a lantern?" He held out a lantern to Jedd that he had taken out of his bag.
Jedd took the lantern and had it going in a few minutes. He held it up and peered about into the dense woodland that surrounded them. The dark, almost eerily beautiful foliage of the Haunted Woods loomed everywhere, blotting out the sky. The lantern cast a bubble of light about them and then seemed to be swallowed up by the intense inky darkness of the woods. It was quieter than any wood had a right to be. Besides the gentle rustle of leaves and creaky branches there were no screeching creatures or moaning ghosts with rattling chains. Just quiet. Jedd frowned. Something wasn't right.
Another howl pierced the night, making both Jedd and Tiraffo jump, Jedd almost dropping the lantern. He pressed a paw to his mouth, shivering.
"That's the same Werelupe from before, if I'm not mistaken," said Tiraffo, "but he sounds farther away, thank goodness for that. You know, he's the one who chased me onto that ledge."
Jedd frowned. "The same thing happened to me. Did... did he say anything to you?"
"Well, yes, something about not letting me get to his hunt," said Tiraffo thoughtfully. "I thought it was all just the mad ramblings of a Werelupe, you know how they can be."
"I have an idea," said Jedd, staring off into the darkness, holding the lantern high in a paw that did not shake. "The same thing happened to me. I know it sounds crazy, and it probably is, but I believe that Werelupe is hunting down the creature I'm here to find. I think it's scaring off everyone in the woods to try and find the creature. I think the Werelupe might be a bounty hunter."
Tiraffo looked at Jedd with open admiration. "That's really brilliant deducting! Well, we'll just have to find the creature before he does! Let's have at it!"
"It won't end well in all probability," said Jedd.
"We'll likely get ourselves killed," he added.
"Not at all. We'll think of a brilliant plan and save the day!"
"Don't see how that's possible, it hasn't been 'day' in this Woods for, well, days." Rainne whistled in appreciation of this fact.
In saying so, they started off in the general direction of the Werelupe's howl. It seemed logical to assume the Werelupe was hot on the creature's trail. Following the Hunter seemed the surest way to find the wounded creature in need of help. The way was dark and the path overgrown with brambles, dead leaves and cobwebs.
"So, you mentioned a shelter," said Tiraffo conversationally. He might as well have been taking his morning tea and asking Jedd what he thought of the weather instead of trekking through the Haunted Woods at night following after a rampaging Werelupe.
"Yes," said Jedd in a distracted voice, walking briskly, moving the lantern from right to left and scanning the woods with sharp, slightly narrowed eyes. His large Acara ears were alert and twitching with every small sound. "I run a shelter for hurt and abandoned Neopets."
"That's quite—" but he never finished his sentence. (Jedd would always suspect he had been on the verge of saying 'that's quite foolish, how terrible!'. )
He stopped speaking because something had stepped onto the path in front of them, blocking their way. Something huge, towering over them. Something terrifying. Wreathed in shadows and darkness, the lantern's light somehow did not illuminate the creature at all. It sucked in the light and grew darker instead. They could make out only horns and spikes, many in number, some short and spiky, others large and curling. Blackish mist wafted off of it in dark waves.
The worst parts were the eyes. Bright, electric blue eyes glowing in the darkness of what must have been a face. The creature was breathing, jagged, uneven breaths.
Jedd was frozen, his heart beating so loud it was painful. He shivered in fear, wishing he had worn a few more scarves. Rainne had all but disappeared inside of his scarf and he could feel her trembling little fluffiness against his neck. Tiraffo was shaking in his shoes, finally at a loss for words and with not even an attempt at positivity.
So this was the end, thought Jedd rather sadly. To be torn apart and then most likely eaten by this terrifying mutant of a creature. And yet...
It must have been only moments but Jedd felt as though hours had gone by, as a sense of hyper-awareness took over and he began noticing odd little details. Like how the creature was breathing unevenly. And how its body-language did not suggest aggressiveness, if anything, it seemed cautious. And when it moved towards them a few steps, it seemed to be limping...
"This is the creature I came here to save!" he breathed, fear leaving him all at once. Tiraffo stepped back as the creature advanced.
Jedd put the lantern down on the ground and held out his hands in a gesture of peace. "Please, I'm here to help you!" he said in a clear voice, willing it not to shake. "I know you're wounded and that you're being hunted. I can help. My name is Jedd and this is my friend Tiraffo," he added, turning to glance at his Blumaroo companion, who was looking at him, eyes round and shining. He'd better not accuse him of being brave again.
The creature tilted its head. The sound of chains clinked as it did so. Around its neck was a spiky manacle with a length of broken, rusty chain attached. With the lantern behind him, Jedd realized he could see the creature better in darkness than he could with light. It was nothing like he had ever seen before... although in some ways he thought the twisted, malformed being might once have resembled an Acara. A scary thought.
There were things out there that could twist a creature into such an evil form. Jedd shuddered suddenly, his own past coming back to him, the evil scientist that had kept him locked up, zapping him daily in an evil laboratory with a giant ray. His darkest secret was not that his name was terrible but that it wasn't really a name at all, just a code name for a laboratory experiment. Could this creature's past have been the same as him?
But just as he was about to say something else to the Mutant, it stiffened and became alert, its eyes darting back and forth. Jedd heard a rustle, then a Werelupe's howl, not far away. He opened his mouth to tell the creature to stay with him, that he would lead it to sanctuary. But when he met the creatures eyes, Jedd wondered if it was fully sane. Something about its movements, the look in its eyes, was not right. Reason was out of the question. And then it was gone, moving with a speed and dexterity that Jedd could never match. For all its huge size it moved effortlessly through the dark foliage and out of sight, as though it were a part of the darkness itself, melding itself into the shadows.
"We have to act fast," cried Jedd, grabbing the lantern off the ground. He blew the light out as he did so, handing the lantern to Tiraffo who made a dismayed sound.
"Why are you putting out the light! We need it!" he exclaimed.
"Shhh! I have a plan. We have to follow the Werelupe," said Jedd.
"Shhhh! Look, the creature is wounded; as fast as it is, it can't keep it up forever and the Werelupe will keep hunting it until then. He will lead the way for us."
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness Jedd saw that Tiraffo was brimming with excitement at his plan.
"And then?" asked Tiraffo, his voice low but excited.
"I don't know," admitted Jedd. "I haven't thought much farther than that." Now that Tiraffo had brought it up he realized it was probably a terrible idea. "Oh dear," he said, excitement fading, "I suppose my plan needs some wor—" he cut off when a loud snapping sound interrupted him. It sounded as though a large, heavy creature had stepped on a fallen branch. Or cracked open a tree trunk.
Once again Jedd and Tiraffo stood frozen on the Haunted Woods path. A rustling, crunching sound was getting closer. Tiraffo recovered his wits suddenly and grabbed Jedd by his scarf then pulled him behind a tree.
A giant, powerfully built Werelupe burst onto the path, growling and sniffing, its eyes darting every which way. It threw back its head and howled deliriously at the moon, the sound ear-splitting. Jedd was trying his best not to breathe, his eyes closed tightly, his paws clenched. He could feel Tiraffo next to him, shaking slightly. The Werelupe seemed to walk closer to them, his heavy footsteps resounding in the quiet night. Then the sound stopped. They heard him sniffing vigorously. He howled, even louder this time and then bounded off, making all sorts of crackling, crunching, tearing noises as he did so.
Jedd sank to the ground, one paw on his forehead, heaving a very large sigh of relief. But Tiraffo grabbed his hand and pulled him up to his feet again.
"Come on! He must've caught the scent of the creature and is going after it! Let's go!" cried Tiraffo, pulling Jedd along after him into the path of broken branches, heavy footprints and scattered leaves that the Werelupe had left behind.
"There's something I should mention!" called Jedd as he broke out into a run behind Tiraffo.
"What's that?" called Tiraffo over his shoulder.
"My plans are never any good!"
To be continued...